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The US Department of Labor (DOL) published a request for information (RFI) on June 18 in the Federal Register on the subject of pooled employer plans (PEPs). The RFI provides interested parties until July 20 to submit comments to the DOL addressing potential prohibited transaction (PT) issues confronting PEPs, pooled plan providers (PPPs), participating employers, and others. Read our LawFlash for a refresher on PEPs and relevant parties.

US President Donald Trump signed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020 (the Act) on June 5, modifying certain provisions related to the forgiveness of loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). We recently published a LawFlash discussing these modifications.

In a welcome change, the Act permits employers that qualify for PPP loan forgiveness to continue to defer the employer’s share of Social Security taxes under Section 2302 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The IRS has again extended the due dates for certain returns and payments because of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Notice 2020-35, which the IRS issued on May 28, 2020, postpones the due date for certain time-sensitive actions related to qualified retirement plans, health savings accounts and Archer medical savings accounts, and employment taxes. With some exceptions, which are noted below, affected filings are due July 15, 2020.

Extensions

Notice 2020-35 amplifies Notices 2020-18, 2020-20, and 2020-23 that postponed the due date for various tax returns and payments to July 15, 2020. The extensions provided in this most recent IRS notice apply to certain time-sensitive actions that would have been due on or after March 30, 2020 (and April 1, 2020 in some cases) and before July 15, 2020.

In a 5-4 decision in Thole v. U.S. Bank N.A., the US Supreme Court has ruled that defined benefit plan participants lack Article III standing to sue for fiduciary breaches that do not harm the individual participants. As the Court noted, “[u]nder ordinary Article III standing analysis, the plaintiffs lack Article III standing for a simple, common-sense reason: They have received all of their vested pension benefits so far, and they are legally entitled to receive the same monthly payments for the rest of their lives. Winning or losing this suit would not change the plaintiffs’ monthly pension benefits.”

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued new formal guidance that extends the deadline for providers of individual retirement accounts and individual retirement annuities (IRAs) to file Form 5498.

Read our LawFlash for more information on the new guidance.

The US Department of Labor (DOL) announced publication of a final rule expanding the electronic disclosure options available for retirement plan communications on May 21. The final rule creates a new safe harbor that permits retirement plan administrators to satisfy certain ERISA disclosure requirements by providing individuals with electronic notice and access to documents on a website or by sending an email or other electronic communication with the documents as an attachment or in the body of the communication.

The DOL describes the new safe harbor rule as “fundamentally similar to the proposed rule,” which we previously summarized. However, there are a number of important changes to the proposed rule that will be welcomed by the plan sponsor community. A more in-depth review and analysis of the new safe harbor rule is forthcoming, but in the meantime, we wanted to highlight a few key aspects:

A CARES Act provision offers some relief to employee stock ownership plans by allowing the suspension of required minimum distributions for 2020.

In addition to providing individual stimulus payments and other individual-oriented assistance, the CARES Act contains some provisions aimed at retirement plans, some of which are of particular interest to companies that maintain employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs).

While much of the attention by regulators has been focused on the coronavirus (COVID-19) response and CARES Act/FFCRA guidance, they have not forgotten about the SECURE Act’s introduction of pooled employer plans (PEPs) (centrally administered defined contribution plans that can be joined by multiple unrelated employers).

One of the simplest yet most integral parts of meeting your ERISA fiduciary duties is “sticking to the plan.” Section 402(a)(1) of ERISA requires that every employee benefit plan it covers be established and maintained pursuant to a written instrument.

Establishing a written plan document is a nonfiduciary “settlor” activity. This means that all of the decisions that go into designing the plan are not subject to the ERISA standard of care and cannot be challenged for a breach of fiduciary duty.

On the other hand, following the written plan document in the day-to-day management and administration of the plan is a fiduciary duty under Section 404(a)(1)(D) of ERISA to the extent that it is consistent with ERISA. ERISA requires strict compliance, and veering from the plan’s written terms is generally a per se violation of ERISA. Failure to follow the written plan terms is the most obvious breach of fiduciary duty for a court or regulatory agency to spot and enforce. For example, where a fiduciary’s decision may or may not plainly be a breach of prudence under ERISA, a clear violation of the plan’s written terms may otherwise be the court’s or regulatory agency’s path to finding a breach.