Withholding Calculator Tool Helps Workers Figure Withholding

August 1, 2017

Employers and employee benefit plan fiduciaries and administrators should consider sharing the free IRS Withholding Calculator resource offered in English,  Spanish, and ASL formats with workers in annual employee benefit enrollment packages, new hire paperwork, bonus announcement and other wage related materials and other employee communications to help workers better understand and manage the tax and other effects of their annual employee benefit elections on their take-home pay. Including reminders to re-evaluate withholding and if necessary, change their W-4 withholding elections also helps employees and their families ensure that withholding elections that workers complete as part of new hire documentation are updated in response to changing taxable income and other relevant events.

Communicating the availability of these free government-resource tools to workers during the annual employee benefit plan enrollment period, year-end, raise or bonus time or other strategic times throughout the year could help employees better appreciate the tax-preferred benefit offerings provided by the employer as well as provide significant financial education benefits many workers need for little or no employer cost.

While enrollment packages typically tout the potential “tax savings” that employees can enjoy from participating in tax-favored, employer-sponsored health, group term life, qualified pension or profit-sharing, and other tax-preferred employee benefit or fringe benefit programs offered by their employers, few employees truly understand how to determine properly their necessary wage withholding on taxable wages, much less the specific effects of their employee benefit elections on their income or employment tax liability or withholding.

A better understanding of the relative tax benefits and savings of enrollment in tax-preferred benefits offered by an employer and their potential implications on the income tax withholding elected by the workers can benefit both employees and their employer. Aside from illustrating in real, meaningful terms specific to the worker the tax benefits of his election of employer-offered, tax preferred benefits, proper tax withholding helps employees avoid unnecessary over withholding that can reduce employees’ take-home pay as well as helps protect employees from unexpectedly higher year-end tax bills that often surprise workers when an employee sets his withholding too low.

While few employers or plans want to incur the potential financial costs or liability of estimating savings for individual workers, sharing information about free government-provided resources like the IRS calculator or using vendor-provided solutions that incorporate tools in employee enrollment and other communications can help employees appreciate the benefits of tax-preferred employee benefits and make more informed choices about their benefits and their withholding.

Educating employees about the availability of these free resources also is a low-cost way of providing valuable information to workers whether or not the employer or plan has a vendor offered solution that includes the same or similar tool.  However, educating workers about the availability of the withholding calculator and other tools can be a particularly attractive option for an employer when the employer doesn’t have a vendor-provided option that includes that information or can only access the tool for added charges.

While many vendors offer similar tools and materials sold to employers and employee benefit plans, employers or benefit plan fiduciaries generally must pay fees, share promotional materials or meet at the requirements to deliver those resources as part of a vendor-supplied package. Utilizing these vendor supplied resources without fulfilling these preconditions could expose the employer or plan to potential copyright, trademark or other contractual or intellectual property claims from the vendor. In contrast, IRS withholding calculator and many other government tools can be used or shared freely without these concerns.   Moreover, employers and plans are less likely to face challenges for sharing an unfiltered government resource than a similar tool packaged within a vendor communication package promoting other options.

Of course, regardless of whether these or other tools or information are shared as a free-standing tool or as part of a broader communication package, employers, plans and others sharing these government tools and other similar resources generally will want to ensure that the materials are distributed along with and subject to general tax advice and other disclaimers of reliance as well as statements  encouraging users to consult with their own qualified tax or other qualified professionals about the users’ specific circumstance.

About The Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for management work, coaching, teachings, and publications.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her day-to-day work encompasses both labor and employment issues, as well as independent contractor, outsourcing, employee leasing, management services and other nontraditional service relationships. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with all aspects for workforce and human resources management, including, recruitment, hiring, firing, compensation and benefits, promotion, discipline, compliance, trade secret and confidentiality, noncompetition, privacy and data security, safety, daily performance and operations management, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

Well-known for her extensive work with health, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, governmental and other highly regulated employers, her nearly 30 years’ of experience encompasses domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service as a management consultant,  business coach and consultant and policy strategist as well through her leadership participation in professional and civic organizations such her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and policy adviser to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; ABA Real Property Probate and Trust (RPTE) Section former Employee Benefits Group Chair, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, and Defined Contribution Committee Co-Chair, past Welfare Benefit Committee Chair and current Employee Benefits Group Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair, Substantive and Group Committee member, Membership Committee member and RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author, highly popular lecturer, and serial symposia chair, who publishes and speaks extensively on human resources, labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation, occupational safety and health, and other leadership, performance, regulatory and operational risk management, public policy and community service concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

Want to know more? See here for details about the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at SolutionsLawPress.com.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please provide your current contact information and preferences including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions  Law Press, Inc.™   For information about republication, please contact the author directly.  All other rights reserved.


PBGC Table Shows Present Value  PBGC Maximum Guarantee

December 4, 2016

 On December 02, 2016, PBGC posted a table showing the applicable present values for 2017 plan years. For more information see Technical Update 07-04. (12/02/2016).


IRS Changing Employee Plans & Exempt Organization Audit Procedures

November 21, 2016

Employee benefit plans and tax-exempt organizations facing Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audits or investigations after April, 2016, their leaders and advisors should prepare for some changes in the practices IRS agents will use to issue and enforce document requests (IDRs) after March 31.

The IRS  Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division (TEGE) just issued updated internal guidance (Guidance) governing the procedures its agents will use to gather information for employee benefit plan and exempt organization examinations including information requests made in connection with:

  • Employee Benefit Form 5500 Examination Procedures
  • Exempt Organizations Pre-Audit Procedures
  • On-Site Examinations
  • Tax Exempt Bonds Examinations
  • Indian Tribal Government Examinations and
  • Federal, State and Local Governments (FSLG) Examinations

The new Guidance follows other recent announcements of changes of IRS employee plan or exempt organization procedures such as recently announced changes in IRS employee plan correction procedures.  See, e.g., IRS Qualified Plan Correction Procedures Changing 1/1/17.

The new procedures defined in the Guidance apply more broadly and take effect April 1, 2017.  The Guidance also requires that TEGE update the following IRMs to specifically reflect the new procedures within the next two years:

  • IRM 4.71.1, Overview of Form 5500 Examination Procedures;
  • IRM 4.75.10, Exempt Organizations Pre-Audit Procedures;
  • IRM 4.75.11, On-Site Examination Guidelines;
  • IRM 4.81.5, Tax Exempt Bonds Examination Program Procedures – Conducting the Examination;
  • IRM 4.86.5, Conducting Indian Tribal Government Examinations; and
  • IRM 4.90.9, Federal, State and Local Governments (FSLG) – Procedures, Workpapers and Report Writing.

Among other things, the new Guidance will require “active involvement” by managers of IRS examiners’ early in the process.  The Guidance also calls for:

  • Taxpayers to be involved in the IDR process.
  • Examiners to discuss the issue being examined and the information needed with the taxpayer prior to issuing an IDR.
  • Examiners to ensure that the IDR clearly states the issue and the relevant information they are requesting.
  • If the taxpayer does not timely provide the information requested in the IDR by the agreed upon date, including extensions, examiners to issue a delinquency notice.
  • If the taxpayer fails to respond to the delinquency notice or provides an incomplete response, for the examiner to issue a pre-summons notice to advise the taxpayer that the IRS will issue a summons unless the missing items are fully provided.
  • For a summons to be issued if the taxpayer fails to provide a complete response to the pre-summons letter by its response due date.

According to TEGE the new procedures set forth in the Guidance are designed to “ensure” that IRS Counsel is prepared to enforce IDRs through the issuance of a summons when necessary while also reinforcing the IRS’ commitment to the respect of taxpayer rights under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.  TEGE says the updated procedures established in the Guidance will promote these goals by:

  • Providing for open and meaningful communication between the IRS and taxpayers;
  • Reducing taxpayer burdens
  • Providing for consistent treatment of taxpayers;
  • Allowing the IRS to secure more complete and timely responses to IDRs;
  • Providing consistent timelines for IRS agents to review IDR responses; and
  • Promoting timely issue resolution.

While it remains to be seen exactly how well the new procedures will promote these goals in operation, leaders, sponsors, administrators and tax advisors to employee benefit plans and exempt organizations tagged for audits after the Guidelines take effect will want to ensure that they review and fully understand the new procedures as soon as possible after receiving notice of the audit.

A clear understanding of the procedures can help the entities and their representatives to take advantage of all available options for mitigating exposures and liability from the audit as well as to avoid unfortunate missteps that could result in forfeiture of otherwise available tax-related rights and options or otherwise increase the tax and other associated risks and liabilities of the entities or others associated with them arising from the audit.

Along with responding to these tax-related risks, leaders and advisors of employee benefit plan and exempt organizations also need to keep in mind the often substantial non-tax related risks that may arise concurrently or evolve from a TEGE or other tax-related audit or investigation. The often substantial tax and non-tax exposures typically makes it desirable if not necessary to involve experienced legal counsel in the process as soon as possible.

To help respond to the audit and manage its tax and non-tax related risks and, leaders responsible for these entities generally not only will want to seek legal advice within the scope of attorney-client privilege from legal counsel immediately after receiving an IDR or other notice of an audit or investigation, as well as consider periodically consulting experienced legal counsel for assistance in conducting pre-audit assessment of compliance and other compliance and risk management planning.

Early involvement of legal counsel generally is necessary both to understand and manage both the tax and non-tax exposures associated with the audit, as well as to preserve and utilize the potential benefits of attorney-client privilege and other evidentiary privileges that could help to mitigate both the tax and non-tax related risks.  While federal tax rules afford some evidentiary privileges to certain accounting professionals when providing tax representation or advice, the protective scope of such privileges generally are more limited than attorney-client privilege and work product evidentiary privileges and typically do not apply to non-tax matters. As a result, most entities and their leaders will want to consider involvement of legal counsel to maximize privilege protections and non-tax related exposures even if the parties plan for a qualified tax professional or other consultant to play a significant role in assisting them to prepare for and respond to the audit.

About The Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for work, teachings and publications.

Ms. Stamer works with health industry and other businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and advisor to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group; immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment, employee benefits, compensation, and other regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include the “Texas Payday Law” Chapter of Texas Employment Law, as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com   or contact Ms. Stamer via email here  or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at SolutionsLawPress.com such as:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please provide your current contact information and preferences including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission.  The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues.  Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein

©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  All other rights reserved.


IRS Qualified Plan Correction Procedures Changing 1/1/17

October 13, 2016

Employers and other plan sponsors of tax-qualified 401(k) and other defined contribution or defined benefit plans (retirement plans) and others working to avoid plan disqualification by correcting plan documentation, administration or other problems that otherwise could disqualify their program for tax qualified treatment under the Internal Revenue Code (Code) under the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS) or the Audit Closing Agreement Program (Audit CAP) modified rules beginning January 1, 2017, under changes announced by the IRS in Revenue Procedure 2016-51 on September 29, 2016.

The EPCRS and Audit CAP programs are two IRS correction programs commonly used to preserve the tax qualified status of a retirement plan affected by plan documentation, administration or other deficiencies that otherwise would result in the plan ceasing to qualify as a tax retirement plan under the Code.  The EPCRS program generally is available to correct and resolve certain qualification concerns not eligible for self-correction that retirement plan sponsors or plans self-identify and disclose to the IRS in accordance with the EPCRS correction procedures,  In contrast, the Audit CAP program provides an avenue that may provide a pathway for a plan sponsor of a retirement plan with significant problems in its compliance with the Code’s qualification requirements that are discovered by the IRS on audit or during the determination letter application process to preserve the tax benefits associated with maintaining a retirement plan in compliance with the Code’s tax qualification requirements by entering into a Closing Agreement pursuant to which the problems are corrected and paying a reasonable sanction to the IRS based directly on the amount of tax benefits preserved and the nature, extent and severity of the failure, taking into account the extent to which correction occurred before audit.

Key changes to the EPCRS correction procedures scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2017 under Revenue Procedure 2016-51 include the following:

  • The IRS no longer will permit determination letter applications when applying the correction programs under EPCRS;
  • The requirement for a plan sponsor to submit a determination letter application to the IRS when correcting qualification failures that include a plan amendment no longer will apply; and
  • Fees associated with the Voluntary Correction Program (VCP) after December 31, 2017 will be user fees and no longer set forth in the EPCRS revenue procedure. For VCP submissions made in 2016, refer to Proc. 2016-8 and Rev. Proc. 2013-12 to determine the applicable user fee and after 2016, refer to the annual Employee Plans user fees revenue procedure to determine VCP user fees for that year. Availability of Self-Correction Program (SCP) for significant failures has been modified to provide that, for qualified individually designed plans, a determination letter need not be current to satisfy the Favorable Letter requirement

In addition to its announcements of changes to the EPCRS correction program Revenue Procedures 2016-51 also announces various modifications to the Audit CAP program, including:

  • A revised approach to determining Audit CAP sanctions under which
    • Sanctions, generally, will not be less than the fees associated with voluntary compliance under the EPCRS program;
    • The required reasonable sanction will no longer be a negotiated percentage of the maximum payment amount (MPA). Instead, auditors will review facts and circumstances and the MPA amount is simply one factor to consider. In addition, there are revised, additional factors that IRS considers;
    • New factors used in determining sanctions for late amender failures will apply;
    • For late amender failures discovered by the IRS, while reviewing a determination letter application, a new approach to determining the applicable sanction will apply;
    • The IRS will not provide partial refunds for certain Anonymous Submissions

Beyond specific modifications to the EPCRS and Audit CAP procedures, Revenue Procedures 2016-51 also:

  • Updates citations and cross-references for several items previously contained in Rev. Proc. 2013-12; and
  • Invites public comments on recovery of overpayments and on expanding EPCRS correction rules to provide additional guidance on the recovery or recoupment of overpayments.

Revenue Procedures 2016-51 is effective January 1, 2017. Plan sponsors may not elect to apply provisions before January 1, 2017. Rev. Proc. 2013-12, as modified by Rev. Proc. 2015-27 and Rev. Proc. 2015-28, are in effect for 2016.  When Revenue Procedure 2016-51 takes effect on January 1, 2017:

  • Proc. 2013-12 no longer applies as of January 1, 2017; and
  • Provisions of Rev. Proc. 2015-27 and Rev. Proc. 2015-28 concerning EPCRS and other older revenue procedures will no longer apply.

About The Author

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a noted Texas-based management lawyer and consultant, author, lecture and policy advocate, recognized for her nearly 30-years of cutting edge management work as among the “Top Rated Labor & Employment Lawyers in Texas” by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® and as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the field of  “Labor & Employment,”“Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Group Chair and current Defined Contribution Plans Committee Co-Chair, Groups and Substantive Committee and Membership Committee Members, past Welfare Plans Committee Chair and Co-Chair, and former Fiduciary Responsibility Vice Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and Marketing Committee Chair and a prolific author and highly popular speaker and consultant, Ms. Stamer helps management manage.

Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her nearly 30-year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

For additional information about this topic or  Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal control and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at http://www.Solutionslawpress.com.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. ©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™. All other rights reserved.


Criminal Conviction Of Plan Trustee, Outside Legal Counsel Shows Risks of Retaliating Against Whistleblowers For Reporting ERISA Violations

August 1, 2016

The U.S. Department of Labor’s just announced successful whistleblower prosecution in Perez v. Scott Brain, et al of an employee benefit plan trustee, and an individual lawyer and her law firm that served as the employee benefit plan’s outside legal counsel of violating the fiduciary responsibility and whistleblower rules of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) illustrates why employee benefit plan sponsors, trustees or other fiduciaries, their management, legal counsel, auditors and other service providers must both prudently investigate whistleblower allegations or other evidence of potential wrongdoing involving their employee benefit plans and resist the temptation to retaliate against employees or others for reporting or cooperating in the investigation of alleged improprieties involving an employee benefit plan.

The Brain decision highlights the care that employee benefit plan sponsors, fiduciaries, advisors and service providers and their management must use when responding to allegations or other evidence of wrongdoing relating to an employee benefit plan or its administration, investigating and addressing alleged misconduct or other performance or disciplinary concerns involving parties whose report or involvement in investigations of ERISA or other misconduct could form the basis of a potential ERISA 510 or other retaliation complaint.

The decision also makes clear that outside legal counsel advising an employee benefit plan or its fiduciaries in relation to the investigation or response to charges of ERISA misconduct involving an employee benefit plan must use care to avoid actions that could render them liable for participation in acts of illegal retaliation, violating their duty of loyalty to the plan by allowing themselves to become involved in a conflict of interest when investigating or defending potential wrongdoing involving an employee benefit plan, or engaging in other discretionary actions that could constitute a breach of fiduciary duty in violation of ERISA.

In Perez v. Scott Brain, et al., the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled that Cement Masons Southern California Trust Fund’s trustee and Cement Masons Local 600 business manager, Scott Brain (Brain) and outside trust fund legal counsel, Melissa Cook, violated sections 510 and 404 of ERISA by causing the firing a trust fund employee Cheryle Robbins (Robbins) and an employee of the plan’s third party administrator, Cory Rice (Rice), in retaliation for their involvement in filing an internal complaint about and cooperating with the Labor Department’s Employee Benefit Security Administration’s federal criminal investigation of reports of Brain’s wrongful interference as a trustee with collections and contributions from unionized employers.

In 2011, Robbins, director of the trust funds’ audit and collections department, responded to a federal criminal investigation into Brain’s activities with contractors. The same year, she and Rice, who worked for the third-party administrator to the trust fund, American Benefit Plan Administrators, now, Zenith American Solutions (Zenith), participated in an effort to complain about Brain’s interference with efforts to collect delinquent contributions from contractors. Within weeks of this conduct, Robbins was suspended from her employment with the trust fund. Less than six months later, both Robbins and Rice were fired.

The court’s 71-page decision chronicles the coordinated retaliatory campaign orchestrated by Brain and Cook that led to Robbins’ suspension and firing by the employee benefit plan as well as the termination of Cook by his employer, Zenith..

With respect to Robbins’ suspension, the court found that the evidence showed Brain and Cook “were very upset with Robbins due to her contact with the [Department of Labor],” and that Brain and Cook “used their positions and influence to cause the other trustees to vote in favor of” suspending Robbins. To do so, the court explained, Brain and Cook “took the lead at the . . . [b]oard meeting with respect to the discussion of Robbins’ contact with the [Department of Labor]” and “created an environment that was hostile to her,” which “caused the trustees to vote to place her on leave.” The court noted that the two “‘set in motion’ the decision by the Joint Board to put Robbins on leave [.]”

As for Rice’s firing, the court explained how Brain and Cook retaliated against Rice by pressuring his employer, Zenith, into firing Rice and manipulating the Zenith relationship to deter Zenith from rehiring Rice in retaliation for his involvement in efforts to make an internal complaint about Brain.

Based upon evidence introduced during a five-day trial, the District Court ruled that Brain, Cook and Cook’s law firm violated ERISA section 510 by suspending and then discharging Robbins, and causing Zenith to refuse to hire Robbins and to discharge Rice in retaliation for their participation in reporting Brian’s misconduct to the General President of the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association and because Robbins participated in a federal criminal investigation of Brain.  Specifically, the District Court ruled:

  • Brain, Cook and Cook’s law firm wrongfully retaliated against Robbins in violation of ERISA 510 for her communications with the DOL by placing her on administrative leave; causing the work performed by the department that Robbins previously managed to be outsourced to Zenith and by causing Zenith not to hire Robbins to participate in its work;
  • Brain, Cook and Cook’s law firm wrongfully retaliated against Rice in violation of ERISA 510 by causing Zenith to terminate Cook;
  • Brain breached his fiduciary duty under ERISA 404 by retaliating against Robbins and causing her to be placed on administrative leave and that Cook knowingly participated in that breach.

The court held that Brain and Cook’s retaliatory conduct violated section 510 of ERISA, which prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers for complaining of ERISA violations or cooperating with a governmental investigation of such violations. The court also held that the couple’s retaliation against Robbins breached Brain’s fiduciary duties under ERISA section 404 to the trust funds and that Cook participated knowingly in that breach.

In reaching its decision, the court rejected attorney Cook’s argument that she was somehow immunized from her unlawful conduct because she was an attorney to the trust funds.  Among other things, the court noted the “apparent conflict of interest” Cook had in representing the trust funds while being in an undisclosed “romantic relationship” with Brain, which existed as defendants carried out their retaliatory scheme. Reminding lawyers of their ethical duties in California, the court cited California Rule of Professional Conduct 3-310(B), which the court explained “requires that an attorney disclose to a client any personal relationship or interest that he or she knows, or with the exercise of reasonable diligence should know, could substantially affect her his or her professional judgment in advising the client.”

As punishing for these criminal violations of ERISA, the District Court ordered the permanent removal of Brain as a trustee. It also ordered the permanent barring of Brain, Cook and her law firm from serving the Cement Masons Southern California Trust Funds. In addition, the court ordered Cook and her law firm to repay all attorneys’ fees she billed the trust funds for the actions she took in retaliating against whistleblowers Robbins and Rice.  These criminal sanctions were in addition to the $630,000 civil damage award that the Labor Department previously secured in lost wages and damages for Robbins, Rice and another worker victimized by Brain and Cook in August 2015.

In addition to its successful prosecution of Brain, Cook and Cook’s law firm on these charges, the DOL also had sought, but failed to convince the District Court based on the evidence presented at trial to find Brain, Cook, Cook’s law firm and Brain’s fellow trust fund trustee Local 600 business agent and Joint Board of Trustees member Jaime Briceno guilty of wrongful retaliation against another alleged whistleblower or Briceno of breaching his fiduciary duties under ERISA by failing to prudently investigate Robbins’ allegations against Brain; or by voting to use assets of the Trust Funds to pay the cost of the settlement of the civil action brought by Robbins. The District Court also refused to consider a newly raised charge that Brain breached his fiduciary duty by failing to collect all monies owed to the Trust Funds on the grounds that the Labor Department had failed to timely raise the charge. While the court refused to convict Briceno, Brain, Cook or Cook’s law firm on the additional charges, the Labor Department’s prosecution of these claims illustrates that along with abstaining from retaliating against ERISA whistleblowers, employee benefit plan fiduciaries also should position themselves to defend against potential breach of fiduciary duty claims based on alleged inadequacies in their investigation or response to reports or other evidence of misconduct involving the plan by prudently investigating and acting to redress allegations or other evidence of potential wrongdoing in the administration of employee benefit plans or their assets.

About The Author

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, is AV-Preeminent (the highest) rated attorney repeatedly recognized as a Martindale-Hubble as a “LEGAL LEADER™” and “Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law, Labor and Employment Law, and Business & Commercial Law and among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” in ERISA, Labor and Employment and Healthcare Law by D Magazine for her nearly 30 years of experience and knowledge representing and advising employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, service providers and vendors and others on these and other planning, business transaction and contracting, administration, compliance, risk management, audits, investigations, government and private litigation and other enforcement and other related matters.

past Chair and current committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, a former ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative ,

Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her nearly 30-year career has focused on helping management manage.  Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving,  she de[;pus jer her extensive legal and operational knowledge and experience to help organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk.

As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes. Common engagements include internal and external workforce hiring, management, training, performance management, compliance and administration, discipline and termination, and other aspects of workforce management including employment and outsourced services contracting and enforcement, sentencing guidelines and other compliance plan, policy and program development, administration, and defense, performance management, wage and hour and other compensation and benefits, reengineering and other change management, internal controls, compliance and risk management, communications and training, worker classification, tax and payroll, investigations, crisis preparedness and response, government relations, safety, government contracting and audits, litigation and other enforcement, and other concerns.

Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements. She is particularly recognized for her leading edge work, thought leadership and knowledgeable advice and representation on the design, documentation, administration, regulation and defense of a diverse range of self-insured and insured health and welfare benefit plans including private exchange and other health benefit choices, health care reimbursement and other “defined contribution” limited benefit, 24-hour and other occupational and non-occupational injury and accident, expat and medical tourism, onsite medical, wellness and other medical plans and insurance benefit programs as well as a diverse range of other qualified and nonqualified retirement and deferred compensation, severance and other employee benefits and compensation, insurance and savings plans, programs, products, services and activities. As a key element of this work, Ms. Stamer works closely with employer and other plan sponsors, insurance and financial services companies, plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors and others to design, administer and defend effective legally defensible employee benefits and compensation practices, programs, products and technology. She also continuously helps employers, insurers, administrative and other service providers, their officers, directors and others to manage fiduciary and other risks of sponsorship or involvement with these and other benefit and compensation arrangements and to defend and mitigate liability and other risks from benefit and liability claims including fiduciary, benefit and other claims, audits, and litigation brought by the Labor Department, IRS, HHS, participants and beneficiaries, service providers, and others. She also assists debtors, creditors, bankruptcy trustees and others assess, manage and resolve labor and employment, employee benefits and insurance, payroll and other compensation related concerns arising from reductions in force or other terminations, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and other business transactions including extensive experience with multiple, high-profile large scale bankruptcies resulting in ERISA, tax, corporate and securities and other litigation or enforcement actions.

A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law Ms. Stamer also is well-known for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, workforce, tax, education, insurance and other policies critical to the workforce, benefits, and compensation practices and other key aspects of a broad range of businesses and their operations. She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally. Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas, Ms. Stamer for many years acted as the scribe responsible for leading the Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) HHS Office of Civil Rights annual agency meeting and regularly participates in the OCR and other JCEB annual agency meetings, and participates in the development and submission of comments and other input to the agencies on regulatory, enforcement and other concerns. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to many business, professional and civic organizations.

Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer serves on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and as an editorial advisor and contributing author of many other publications. Her leadership involvements with the American Bar Association (ABA) include year’s serving many years as a Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; ABA RPTE Section current Practice Management Vice Chair and Substantive Groups & Committees Committee Member, RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee Past Group Chair and Diversity Award Recipient, current Defined Contribution Plans Committee Co-Chair, and past Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Chair Co-Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; International Section Life Sciences Committee Policy Vice Chair; and a speaker, contributing author, comment chair and contributor to numerous Labor, Tax, RPTE, Health Law, TIPS, International and other Section publications, programs and task forces. Other selected service involvements of note include Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; past EO Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former Southwest Benefits Association Board of Directors member, Continuing Education Chair and Treasurer; former Texas Association of Business BACPAC Committee Member, Executive Committee member, Regional Chair and Dallas Chapter Chair; former Society of Human Resources Region 4 Chair and Consultants Forum Board Member and Dallas HR Public Policy Committee Chair; former National Board Member and Dallas Chapter President of Web Network of Benefit Professionals; former Dallas Business League President and others. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

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For important information concerning this communication see here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS. ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. All other rights reserved.

 


Final Investment Advice Fiduciary Rules Mean Work For Employers, Fiduciaries & Advisors

April 12, 2016

Employer and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plan committees and fiduciaries, and the broker-dealers, financial advisors, insurance agents and other plan service providers that provide investment-related platforms, advice, recommendations or other services for employee benefit plans need to reevaluate the fiduciary status of their service providers and begin restructuring as necessary their associated relationships, service provider commission or other compensation, service agreements and arrangements or other services in response to a new Regulatory Guidance Package (Rule) that explicitly classifies parties providing “covered investment advice” as fiduciaries subject to the conflict of interest and other fiduciary responsibility rules of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Supplementing existing precedent and EBSA’s already existing broad, functional definition of “fiduciary,” the Rule clarifies when individuals and entities that provide “covered investment advice” to plans, plan sponsors, fiduciaries, plan participants, beneficiaries and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and IRA owners are:

  • Fiduciaries of the Plan or IRA for purposes of Title I of ERISA;
  • Required to acknowledge their status and the status of their individual advisers as “fiduciaries” of the plan for purposes of ERISA;
  • Accountable as fiduciaries for making prudent investment recommendations without regard to their own interests, or the interests of those other than the plan or plan participant or beneficiary that is the customer;
  • Restricted to charging only “reasonable compensation” for their advice or service;
  • Prohibited from making misrepresentations to their customers regarding recommended investments; and
  • Prohibited from providing advice or making payments that involve any conflicts of interest prohibited by ERISA unless the arrangements fully complies with a prohibited transaction exemption issued by EBSA under ERISA Section 408 that otherwise complies with ERISA Section 404.

Concurrent with its adoption of final regulations implementing these new rules concerning investment advisors and their fiduciary responsibilities, the Rule also adopts certain new Prohibited Transaction Exemptions that define requirements that providers of covered investment advice and the plan fiduciaries that engage them generally will be required after April 7, 2017 to ensure are met for investment advisors to receive commission-based compensation for their services, to sell or purchase certain recommended debt securities and other investments out of their own inventories to or from plans and IRAs, or to receive compensation for recommending fixed rate annuity contracts to plans and IRAs.

Investment Advice Covered By The Rule

The final rule applies to “covered investment advice.” For purposes of the rule, “covered investment advice” generally includes:

  • A recommendation to a plan, plan fiduciary, plan participant and beneficiary and IRA owner for a fee or other compensation, direct or indirect, as to the advisability of buying, holding, selling or exchanging securities or other investment property, including recommendations as to the investment of securities or other property after the securities or other property are rolled over or distributed from a plan or IRA;
  • A recommendation as to the management of securities or other investment property, including, among other things, recommendations on investment policies or strategies, portfolio composition, selection of other persons to provide investment advice or investment management services, selection of investment account arrangements (e.g., brokerage versus advisory); or recommendations with respect to rollovers, transfers, or distributions from a plan or IRA, including whether, in what amount, in what form, and to what destination such a rollover, transfer, or distribution should be made.

Under the Rule, the fundamental threshold element in establishing the existence of fiduciary investment advice is whether a “recommendation” occurred. The Department has taken an approach to defining “recommendation” that is consistent with and based upon the approach taken by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the independent regulatory authority of the broker-dealer industry, subject to the oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The Rule specifies that a “recommendation” is a communication that, based on its content, context, and presentation, would reasonably be viewed as a suggestion that the advice recipient engage in or refrain from taking a particular course of action. Under the Rule, the more individually tailored the communication is to a specific advice recipient or recipients, the more likely the communication will be viewed as a recommendation.

The types of relationships that must exist for such recommendations to give rise to fiduciary investment advice responsibilities include recommendations made either directly or indirectly (e.g. through or together with any affiliate) by a person who:

  • Represents or acknowledges that they are acting as a fiduciary within the meaning of ERISA or the Internal Revenue Code (Code);
  • Renders advice pursuant to a written or verbal agreement, arrangement or understanding that the advice is based on the particular investment needs of the advice recipient; or
  • Directs the advice to a specific recipient or recipients regarding the advisability of a particular investment or management decision with respect to securities or other investment property of the plan or IRA.

Also, the Rule only applies where a recommendation is provided directly or indirectly in exchange for a “fee or other compensation.” “Fee or other compensation, direct or indirect” means any explicit fee or compensation for the advice received by the person (or by an affiliate) from any source, and any other fee or compensation received from any source in connection with or as a result of the recommended purchase or sale of a security or the provision of investment advice services including, though not limited to, such things as commissions, loads, finder’s fees, and revenue sharing payments. A fee or compensation is paid “in connection with or as a result of” such transaction or service if the fee or compensation would not have been paid but for the transaction or service or if eligibility for or the amount of the fee or compensation is based in whole or in part on the transaction or service.

 Investment Advice Not Covered By Rule

While the Rule reaches broadly, not all communications with financial advisers are covered fiduciary investment advice under the Rule. As a threshold issue, if the communications do not meet the definition of “recommendations” as described above, the communications will be considered non-fiduciary. In response to requests from commenters, and for clarification, the final rule includes some specific examples of communications that would not rise to the level of a recommendation and therefore would not constitute a fiduciary investment advice communication under the Rule.

When evaluating the applicability and effect of these exemptions, however, it is important to keep in mind that by adding the new Rule, EBSA seeks to make clear that individuals or organizations that engage in activities described in the Rule as covered investment advice are fiduciaries subject to these requirements. Since the Rule does not revoke existing EBSA fiduciary guidance or judicial precedent, service providers and other parties with discretionary authority or responsibility over employee benefit plans not covered by the Rule still could qualify as fiduciaries if their authority, responsibility or actions functionally causes them to fall within the definition of a fiduciary under these other pre-existing definitions of fiduciary status.    Subject to this cautionary proviso, the following are some of the activities that the Rule identifies as activities that might fall outside the Rule’s covered investment activities in the manner required by the Rule:

  • “Education” as defined and provided in accordance with the Rule;
  • “General communications that a reasonable person would not view as an investment recommendation;”
  • Simply making available a platform of investment alternatives without regard to the individualized needs of the plan, its participants, or beneficiaries if a plan fiduciary independent of the platform service provider actually decides what investment options are offered and the platform service provider also represents in writing to the plan fiduciary that they are not undertaking to provide impartial investment advice or to give advice in a fiduciary capacity; and
  • Transactions with independent plan fiduciaries where the adviser knows or reasonably believes that the independent fiduciary is a licensed and regulated provider of financial services (banks, insurance companies, registered investment advisers, broker-dealers) or those that have responsibility for the management of $50 million in assets, and other conditions set forth in the Rule are met;
  • Communications and activities made by advisers to ERISA-covered employee benefit plans in swap or security-based swap transactions when the swap transaction meets certain conditions set forth in the Rule, which EBSA designed in coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to avoid conflicts between the Rule and the swap and security-based swap rules promulgated by those agencies under the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act; and
  • Activities and communications of employees working in the payroll, accounting, human resources, and financial departments of the plan sponsor or its affiliated business who routinely develop reports and recommendations for the company and other named fiduciaries of the sponsors’ plans if the employees receive no fee or other compensation in connection with any such recommendations beyond their normal compensation for work performed for their employer.

New Prohibited Transaction Exemptions Published With Rule

 Concurrent with its publication of the Rule, EBSA also is adopting the following new “Prohibited Transaction Exemptions to the otherwise applicable statutory list of prohibited conflict of interest transactions in ERISA Section 406 and the companion rules of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) applicable to qualified retirement plans.

Noncompliance with the Rule, including where necessary to avoid violating ERISA Section 406’s prohibited transaction prohibitions, by parties providing covered investment advice or the engagement or retention of such a service provider by an employer or other party exercising or with responsibility or authority to make that engagement carriers big legal risk.  Advisers and financial institutions that don’t meet the BICE standards and other requirements of the Rule expose themselves to liability from breach of fiduciary duty claims under ERISA brought by ERISA plans, participants, and beneficiaries or in the case of IRAs or other non-ERISA plans, state law breach of contract or other state law claims brought by IRAs and other non-ERISA plans or accountholders.   Likewise an employer, member of its management or other party responsible for or having authority to choose the service provider risks breaching its own fiduciary duties under ERISA by engaging a party that renders covered investment advice without complying with the Rule.  In addition, to the extent that the engagement or activities of the service provider involves commission compensation payments, swaps or other activities that would constitute a prohibited conflict of interest under ERISA Section 406 not structured and conducted with an applicable prohibited transaction exemption, both the service provider and the fiduciary could bear personal liability for involving the plan or its assets in a prohibited transaction in violation of ERISA Section 406.   For this reason, to help positions themselves to mitigate or defend against liability for such potential claims, advisors generally should take steps to ensure that the advisor can prove the advisor acted in their clients’ best interest by documenting their use of a reasonable process and adherence to professional standards in deciding to make the recommendation and determining it was in the customer’s best interest, and by documenting their compliance with the financial institution’s policies and procedures required by the Best Interest Contract Exemption.

“Best Interest Contract Exemption” (BICE)

 ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code rules for qualified retirement plans generally prohibit individuals or entities providing fiduciary investment advice to plan sponsors, plan participants, and IRA owners to receive payments creating any of the listed statutory conflicts of interest listed in ERISA or the Code without a prohibited transaction exemption (PTE), employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plan committees and other fiduciaries, and the broker-dealers, financial advisors, insurance agents and other plan service providers providing covered investment services to employee benefit plans also need to ensure that their compensation is structured to ensure that the compensation and other arrangements do not violate these prohibited transaction and conflict of interest prohibitions of the Code and ERISA, ERISA’s reasonable compensation rules, or the other requirements of ERISA.

Concerning ERISA Section 406’s party-in-interest and other conflict of interest requirements, EBSA issued in conjunction with its publication of the Rule a new “Best Interest Contract Exemption” (BICE), which provides a prohibited transaction exception that permits the payment of commission-based compensation to fiduciary investment advisors as long as the conditions specified in the BICE are met. Among other things, the BICE requires as a condition of the applicability of this exception that:

  •  The financial institution to acknowledge in writing fiduciary status for itself and its advisers;
  • The financial institution and advisers to adhere to ERISA’s basic standards of impartial conduct, including giving prudent advice that is in the customer’s best interest, avoiding making misleading statements, and receiving no more than reasonable compensation;
  • The financial institution to have policies and procedures designed to mitigate harmful impacts of conflicts of interest; and
  • The financial institution to disclose specified information about their conflicts of interest and the cost of their advice.

 The specified disclosures required to meet the conditions of the BICE include:

  •  Descriptions of material conflicts of interest;
  • Descriptions of fees or charges paid by the retirement investor
  • A statement of the types of compensation the firm expects to receive from third parties in connection with recommended investments;
  • Notification that investors have the right to obtain specific disclosure of costs, fees, and other compensation upon request; and
  • A requirement that a website must be maintained and updated regularly that includes information about the financial institution’s business model and associated material conflicts of interest, a written description of the financial institution’s policies and procedures that mitigate conflicts of interest, and disclosure of compensation and incentive arrangements with advisers, among other information. However, the BICE currently does not require that the website include individualized information about a particular adviser’s compensation.

Noncompliance with the Rule by parties providing covered investment advice or the engagement or retention of such a service provider by an employer or other party exercising or with responsibility or authority to make that engagement carriers big legal risk.  Advisers and financial institutions that don’t meet the BICE standards and other requirements of the Rule expose themselves to liability from breach of fiduciary duty claims under ERISA brought by ERISA plans, participants, and beneficiaries or in the case of IRAs or other non-ERISA plans, state law breach of contract or other state law claims brought by IRAs and other non-ERISA plans or accountholders.   Likewise an employer, member of its management or other party responsible for or having authority to choose the service provider risks breaching its own fiduciary duties under ERISA by engaging a party that renders covered investment advice without complying with the Rule.  In addition, to the extent that the engagement or activities of the service provider involves commission compensation payments, swaps or other activities that would constitute a prohibited conflict of interest under ERISA Section 406 not structured and conducted with an applicable prohibited transaction exemption, both the service provider and the fiduciary could bear personal liability for involving the plan or its assets in a prohibited transaction in violation of ERISA Section 406.   For this reason, to help positions themselves to mitigate or defend against liability for such potential claims, advisors generally should take steps to ensure that the advisor can prove the advisor acted in their clients’ best interest by documenting their use of a reasonable process and adherence to professional standards in deciding to make the recommendation and determining it was in the customer’s best interest, and by documenting their compliance with the financial institution’s policies and procedures required by the Best Interest Contract Exemption.

Principle Transactions Exemption

 The “Principal Transactions Exemption” published in connection with the Rule provides an exemption from the prohibitions of ERISA Section 406 to allow investment advice fiduciaries to sell or purchase certain recommended debt securities and other investments out of their own inventories to or from plans and IRAs where the requirements of the Exemption are met. As with the Best Interest Contract Exemption, the Principle Transaction Exemption requires, among other things, that investment advice fiduciaries adhere to certain impartial conduct standards, including obligations to act in the customer’s best interest, avoid misleading statements, and seek to obtain the best execution reasonably available under the circumstances for the transaction.

Existing PTE For Fixed Rate Annuity Contracts

In connection with its adoption of the Rule, EBSA also is amending existing exemption, PTE 84-24, which provides relief for insurance agents and brokers, and insurance companies, to receive compensation for recommending fixed rate annuity contracts to plans and IRAs. As amended in connection with the Rule, the requirements of PTE 84-24 are modified to provide increased safeguards for retirement investors while still providing “more streamlined conditions” than those required to meet the Best Interest Contract Exemption. Consistent with its enthusiasm for encouraging the offering and adoption of life time income products to retirees over the past several years, EBSA says these more streamlined conditions of PTE 84-24 are appropriate to “facilitate access by plans and IRAs to these relatively simple lifetime income products.” More complex products, such as variable annuities and indexed annuities, will be able to be recommended by advisers and financial institutions under the terms of the Best Interest Contract Exemption.

Other PTE Exemptions Modified To Raise Requirements

The Department is amending other existing exemptions, as well, to ensure that plan and IRA investors receiving investment advice are consistently protected by impartial conduct standards, regardless of the particular exemption upon which the adviser and the fiduciary engaging that advisor intend to rely upon to avoid violating of ERISA 406.

While the compliance deadline for the new Rule is not until April 8, 2017, the relief from ERISA Section 406 offered by the new Exemptions announced in connection with the Rule’s publication generally became available when EBSA published them in connection with the Rule on April 8, 2016. As this relief could provide helpful protection against fiduciary challenges or exposures that some service providers might already face under already existing fiduciary precedent or guidance, many service providers involved in dealings with plan or IRA investments may wish to take steps to position themselves to claim protection under one of these new PTE Exemptions even before the Rule takes effect.  When evaluating this option, some service providers should be aware of the availability of transitional relief that may make it easier for some service providers to claim relief under the new BICE or Principal Transactions Exemption between April 8, 2017 and January 1, 2018 (Transition Period).  In addition, parties that contemplate wishing to take advantage of the relief offered by the new BICE or Principal Transactions Exemption may benefit from taking advantage of reduced requirements for meeting these conditions during the phase in Transition Period. During this Transition Period, EBSA still will require firms and advisers to adhere to the Exemptions’ impartial conduct standards, provide a notice to retirement investors that, among other things, acknowledges their fiduciary status and describes their material conflicts of interest, and to designate a person responsible for addressing material conflicts of interest and monitoring advisers’ adherence to the impartial conduct standards; however compliance with certain other requirements is waived until January 1, 2018. Of course, full compliance with all requirements of the applicable Exemptions will be required as of January 1, 2018.

Rule Requires Action By Plan Sponsors, Fiduciaries & Service Providers

 The new Rule creates lots of new work both for advisors and other service providers in, as well as plan sponsors, plan administrative committees or other fiduciaries responsible for selection, retention and oversight of those providing these services. All such parties have much to do to fulfill their ERISA responsibilities by the April 8, 2017 deadline for compliance with the new Rule and to deal with other likely fallout from the new Rule.

Fallout for Covered Investment Advisors & Other Service Providers

Clearly, advisors, financial institutions and other service providers providing covered investment advice and others with involvement with investments or investment platforms have much work to do to prepare for the new rule. However, compliance with the Rule is not merely a service provider problem. Employer or other plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries or other responsible for the credentialing, selection, retention, and oversight of service providers dealing with investments also need to ensure that the party or parties responsible for these vendor dealings fulfills its own fiduciary responsibilities in dealing with vendors and service providers that may be impacted by these requirements.

 Advisers and financial institutions that don’t meet the requirements of the new Rule expose themselves to liability from breach of fiduciary duty claims under ERISA brought by ERISA plans, participants, and beneficiaries or in the case of IRAs or other non-ERISA plans, state law breach of contract or other state law claims brought by IRAs and other non-ERISA plans or accountholders. Obviously, advisors, financial institutions and other service providers providing advice or having dealings or involvement with IRA or employee benefit plan investments, their selection or administration will want to review and update their relationships and their associated compensation, contracts, disclosures and other arrangements and processes in light of the new Rule. Clearly, those that could be considered to offer or provide covered investment advice need to start revising contracts, compensation, policies, practices and other arrangements in anticipation of the Rule. At the same time, the Rule also is likely to create work for certain service providers with involvement or dealings with investments that the service provider considers to fall outside of the Rule:

  • To respond to changes in client requests for proposals, contracts or other due diligence in response to the Rule;
  • To respond to changes in response to the Rule by covered investment advisors to reconfigure services, relationships and contracts in response to the Rule;
  • To clarify and institutionalize and document communications by the uncovered service provider to clients and others of limits on the service provider’s services and capacity that are necessary or helpful to avoid or limit exposure of the service provider to coverage by or claims of liability arising out of the Rule; and/or
  • Otherwise.

Fallout For Plan Sponsors & Plan Fiduciaries Selecting & Overseeing Service Providers

Employer or other plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries or other responsible for the credentialing, selection, retention, and oversight of service providers dealing with investments also need to anticipate and be prepared to deal the effects of adoption of the Rule on their responsibilities and risks as they relate to the selection, retention, contracting, compensation and other dealings with service providers impacted by the Rule.

The Rule’s explicit designation as fiduciaries of certain service providers that previously may have been characterized as providing services as non-fiduciaries, much less its tightening of requirements for the investment advisors that are covered fiduciaries, creates a host of new responsibilities and considerations for employers sponsoring plans and its members of management that select, retain, contract with and oversee these service providers.

Under ERISA, parties designated in writing or function exercising discretionary authority or responsibility for the selection, retention, compensation and oversight of fiduciary or other service providers generally are considered fiduciaries for purposes of carrying out these responsibilities and bear personal liability for prudently selecting, retaining and monitoring the service provider in accordance with ERISA.

To fulfill this fiduciary obligation, those involved in selecting and retaining investment advisors covered by the rules should expect to bear responsibility for ensuring that the covered investment advisor is engaged in compliance with the Rule and the otherwise applicable requirements of ERISA, including that the engagement and compensation of the selected investment advisor will not involve the plan or its assets in a prohibited conflict of interest listed in ERISA Section 406.  Furthermore, failing to ensure that the engagement of an investment advisor does not violate these conflict of interest rules also exposes a sponsoring employer of a qualified plan to excise tax liability under the Code’s companion party-in-interest rules applicable to such plans.

Accordingly, whether the employer itself retains and directly exercises the discretionary authority to select and retain a service provider or appoints a committee or member of its staff to perform these responsibilities as a designated fiduciary, an accurate understanding of which service providers, taking into account the rule, now will be considered fiduciaries and the requirements of the Rule flowing from this status is essential to understand and make appropriate provisions to ensure that proper steps are taken to ensure that the Rule and ERISA’s other requirements for prudent credentialing, bonding, contracting, compensation, and other dealings with the service provider and to budget for the proper conduct of the activities needed to fulfill these obligations.

In light of these and other exposures and obligations, employer and other plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries and plan service providers alike all should start preparing to respond to the new Rule.

To help positions themselves to mitigate or defend against liability for such potential claims, each party generally will want to take prudent and well-documented steps to evaluate the fiduciary status of each applicable service provider, as well as its own fiduciary status, capacity, responsibility and other exposures in light of the new Rule.  Since ERISA fiduciary status attaches functionally based on the functional facts and circumstances, sponsoring employers, as well as service providers generally will want to consider taking appropriate steps to document this analysis and other compliance and risk management efforts to avoid violations of the Rule, as well as to position themselves to defend against other claims and liabilities.

 In all cases, each impacted party should make an effort to apply and retain evidence documenting its efforts including, in the case of all service providers, whether or not covered investment advisors under the Rule, their efforts to act in their clients’ best interest by documenting their use of a reasonable process and adherence to professional standards in deciding to make the recommendation and determining it was in the customer’s best interest, and by documenting their compliance with the financial institution’s policies and procedures and applicable requirements of the law.

 About The Author

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Group Chair, past Welfare Benefit Committee Chair, and Current Defined Contribution Plan Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, a past ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, regulatory and public policy advocate, author, lecturer and industry and public policy thought leader recognized as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law for her more than 28 years’ of leading edge experience nationally and internationally providing practical and effective advice and representation to management.

Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her career has focused on helping organizations and their management understand and use the law and process to manage people, performance, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative and pragmatic problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce management operations and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements.

She is particularly recognized for her leading edge work, thought leadership and knowledgeable advice and representation on the design, documentation, administration, regulation and defense of a diverse range of self-insured and insured health and welfare benefit plans including private exchange and other health benefit choices, health care reimbursement and other “defined contribution” limited benefit, 24-hour and other occupational and non-occupational injury and accident, ex-patriate and medical tourism, onsite medical, wellness and other medical plans and insurance benefit programs as well as a diverse range of other qualified and nonqualified retirement and deferred compensation, severance and other employee benefits and compensation, insurance and savings plans, programs, products, services and activities. In these and other engagements, Ms. Stamer works closely with employer and other plan sponsors, insurance and financial services companies, plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors and others to design, administer and defend effective legally defensible employee benefits and compensation practices, programs, products and technology. She also continuously helps employers, insurers, administrative and other service providers, their officers, directors and others to manage fiduciary and other risks of sponsorship or involvement with these and other benefit and compensation arrangements and to defend and mitigate liability and other risks from benefit and liability claims including fiduciary, benefit and other claims, audits, and litigation brought by the Labor Department, IRS, HHS, participants and beneficiaries, service providers, and others. She also assists debtors, creditors, bankruptcy trustees and others assess, manage and resolve labor and employment, employee benefits and insurance, payroll and other compensation related concerns arising from reductions in force or other terminations, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and other business transactions including extensive experience with multiple, high-profile large scale bankruptcies resulting in ERISA, tax, corporate and securities and other litigation or enforcement actions.

Ms. Stamer also advises and represents clients on OCR and other HHS, Department of Labor, IRS, FTC, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated an impressive resume of more than 28 years’ of experience advising and representing clients on Title I and other ERISA fiduciary responsibility concerns including assisting and advising plan sponsors, plan fiduciary and plan service providers to design and administer fiduciary and other compliance and risk management policies and practices, conducting investigations of potential fiduciary or other breaches, and serving as special counsel, advising and representing these and other clients in connection with EBSA, IRS, SEC and other governmental audits, investigations and enforcement actions; in private disputes and litigation regarding plan investments or other fiduciary concerns between plan participant and beneficiaries, plans, plan fiduciaries, plan sponsors and plan service providers; or both.

Ms. Stamer also is deeply involved in helping to influence health care, pension, social security, workforce, insurance and other policies critical to the workforce, benefits, and compensation practices and other key aspects of a broad range of businesses and their operations. Deeply involved in both U.S. statutory and regulatory pension and health care reform throughout her career, Ms. Stamer both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally. A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law and most recognized for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, education and immigration policy reform, Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to health plans, their sponsors, administrators, insurers and many other business, professional and civic organizations.

Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com, or http://www.stamerchadwicksoefje.com the member of contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also may be interested reviewing other Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™ resources at www.solutionslawpress.com such as:

 If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.   ©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.


Employers, Plan Administrators Confirm All Form 5500s Timely Filed; Valuable Relief Options Available For Non-Filers

July 28, 2015

Businesses sponsoring 401(k) or other defined contribution or defined benefit pension plans, health plans or other employee benefit plans should verify that any required Form 5500s, Annual Returns of Employee Benefit Plans were timely filed and if any were not, should contact legal counsel about whether  they can come into compliance and avoid painful penalties by taking advantage of a newly announced Internal Revenue Service (IRS)  low-cost penalty relief program  for IRS penalties and a Department of Labor (DOL) voluntary compliance resolution program for Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) penalties.

In most cases, the Internal Revenue Code and ERISA each separately require that a Form 5500, Annual Return of Employee Benefit Plan be filed each year for the plan by the end of the seventh month after the close of the plan year. For plans that work on a calendar-year basis, as most do, this means the 2014 return is due on July 31, 2015.   Businesses sponsoring employee benefit plans and the plan administrator of an employee benefit plan face substantial penalties under the Internal Revenue Code and ERISA if the required Form 5500 is not timely filed.  Under the Internal Revenue Code, a business that fails to file a required Form 5500 can incur IRS penalties of up to $15,000 per return per plan year.  In addition, the plan administrator (often the sponsoring business or a member of its management) of an employee benefit plan with unfiled Form 5500s separately also can incur DOL penalties of up to $1000 per day per plan per plan year.  By simultaneously filing the late returns under both the new IRS penalty relief program and the long-standing DOL voluntary compliance resolution program, however, qualifying employers can resolve these exposures much more cost effectively.

While the DOL for many years has allowed plan administrators of retirement and other employee benefit plans the opportunity to resolve ERISA late or non-filing penalties through late filing under its Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program (DFVCP), the IRS only recently has established a companion program  for small employers to use to resolve Internal Revenue Code penalty exposures of employers failing to file the required Form 5500 for their retirement plans.  Based on its positive experience from a one-year pilot program, however, the IRS in May, 2015 now has implemented a new permanent penalty relief program that allows qualifying employers to resolve the Internal Revenue Code penalties for failing to file a Form 5500 required by the Internal Revenue Code.

The DOL DFVCP is available for use by plan administrators of retirement or welfare benefit plans sponsored by employers of all sizes. Plan administrators of employee benefit plans with unfiled required Form 550s can fix the penalty to resolve their ERISA penalty exposures for non- or late-filing of a required  Form 5500s for all unfiled years at $1,500 per submission for “small plans” (generally, fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year) and $4,000 per submission for “large plans” (generally, 100 participants or more at the beginning of the plan year).   A single filing for each plan for all plan years for which a required Form 5500 for that plan has not been timely filed can resolve the potential ERISA penalties for all unfiled plan years.  Further reduced penalty caps are applicable to submissions for certain 501(c)(3) organizations and for Top Hat and Apprenticeship programs. However, by filing late returns under this program, eligible filers can avoid these penalties by paying only $500 for each return submitted, up to a maximum of $1,500 per plan.

In contrast, the new IRS program is only offers penalty relief from the Internal Revenue Code’s penalties for failure to file a required Form 5500 for plans sponsored by small businesses with plans covering a 100 percent owner or the partners in a business partnership, and the owner’s or partner’s spouse (but no other participants), and certain foreign plans. While employers sponsoring employee benefit plans with broader coverage do not qualify for relief under the new IRS penalty relief program, employers sponsoring these employee benefit plans nevertheless should visit with legal counsel about options for resolving their existing penalty exposures for non-filing as legal counsel often can negotiate reductions in penalties with the IRS for employers voluntarily late filing forms.  Such relief generally is not available under the new penalty relief from for small employers or otherwise if the IRS already has assessed a penalty for late filing.  Accordingly, it is important for employer and plan administrators to evaluate whether there are any unfiled required Form 5500s for any plan year for their employee benefit plans and act promptly to voluntarily resolve these issues through late filing before the IRS or DOL discovers the omission.

For Legal or Consulting Advice, Legal Representation, Training Or More Information

If you need help responding to these new or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, help updating or defending your workforce or employee benefit policies or practices, or other related assistance, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

A practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC, Ms. Stamer’s more than 27 years’ of leading edge work as a practicing attorney, author, lecturer and industry and policy thought leader have resulted in her recognition as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law.

Recognized as a “Top” Employee Benefits, Labor and Employment and Health Care Lawyer, Board Certified in Labor and Employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the State Bar of Texas and the American Bar Association, past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, and an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, Ms. Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on health, pension, severance and other employee benefit, human resources, and related insurance, health care, privacy and data security and tax matters and policy.

Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk with a special emphasis on employee benefits, compensation and management controls. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce management operations and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements.

She is particularly recognized for her leading edge work, thought leadership and knowledgeable advice and representation on the design, documentation, administration, regulation and defense of a diverse range of self-insured and insured health and welfare benefit plans including private exchange and other health benefit choices, health care reimbursement and other “defined contribution” limited benefit, 24-hour and other occupational and non-occupational injury and accident, expatriot and medical tourism, on site medical, wellness and other medical plans and insurance benefit programs as well as a diverse range of other qualified and nonqualified retirement and deferred compensation, severance and other employee benefits and compensation, insurance and savings plans, programs, products, services and activities. In these and other engagements, Ms. Stamer works closely with employer and other plan sponsors, insurance and financial services companies, plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors and others to design, administer and defend effective legally defensible employee benefits and compensation practices, programs, products and technology. She also continuously helps employers, insurers, administrative and other service providers, their officers, directors and others to manage fiduciary and other risks of sponsorship or involvement with these and other benefit and compensation arrangements and to defend and mitigate liability and other risks from benefit and liability claims including fiduciary, benefit and other claims, audits, and litigation brought by the Labor Department, IRS, HHS, participants and beneficiaries, service providers, and others. She also assists debtors, creditors, bankruptcy trustees and others assess, manage and resolve labor and employment, employee benefits and insurance, payroll and other compensation related concerns arising from reductions in force or other terminations, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and other business transactions including extensive experience with multiple, high-profile large-scale bankruptcies resulting in ERISA, tax, corporate and securities and other litigation or enforcement actions.

In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated an impressive resume of experience advising and representing clients on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns. The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights for several years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employer and other sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health plans, health insurers, health care providers, banking, technology and other vendors, and others. Beyond advising these and other clients on privacy and data security compliance, risk management, investigations and data breach response and remediation, Ms. Stamer also advises and represents clients on OCR and other HHS, Department of Labor, IRS, FTC, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She also is the author of numerous highly acclaimed publications, workshops and tools for HIPAA or other compliance including training programs on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

Ms. Stamer also is deeply involved in helping to influence the Affordable Care Act and other health care, pension, social security, workforce, insurance and other policies critical to the workforce, benefits, and compensation practices and other key aspects of a broad range of businesses and their operations. She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally. A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law and most recognized for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, education and immigration policy reform, Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to health plans, their sponsors, administrators, insurers and many other business, professional and civic organizations.

Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com, or http://www.stamerchadwicksoefje.com the member of contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also may be interested reviewing other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at www.solutionslawpress.com such as:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile at here.

©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.