ML BeneBits

EXAMINING A RANGE OF EMPLOYEE BENEFITS
AND EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION ISSUES
The US Supreme Court heard arguments on January 17 in Relentless v. Department of Commerce and Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo. In both cases, a commercial herring fishing company challenged a regulatory requirement that the company cover the costs of an observer required to ride along on the fishing boat to confirm compliance with various regulatory requirements.
Fiduciary committees have long been established in connection with retirement plans to manage the investment, legal compliance, and operational risks that can arise under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA). Since the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and, more recently, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA), welfare plan fiduciaries continue to take on increasing compliance responsibilities. Given the increased legal complexity of welfare plan administration, it may be time to consider establishing an administrative committee to help mitigate the various risks involved with managing a welfare plan.
US state and federal laws have increasingly sought to regulate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing—a trend that continued in 2023. This increased regulatory focus has impacted benefit plans, including ERISA plans and, especially, public retirement plans.
The US Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued DOL Advisory Opinion 2023-01A, (Advisory Opinion) addressing racial equity and supplier diversity. The Advisory Opinion answered an inquiry about the application of ERISA’s fiduciary duty requirements to an employer’s racial equity program.
As discussed in a previous LawFlash, the US Department of Labor’s Final Rule on Prudence and Loyalty in Selecting Plan Investment Options, also known as the ESG Rule, contains provisions on proxy voting, which are not limited to environmental, social and governance issues. As a reminder, the ESG Rule, including the changes regarding proxy voting, will go into effect on December 1, 2023.
Since its effective date in February 2023, the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) rule officially titled Prudence and Loyalty in Selecting Plan Investments and Exercising Shareholder Rights, and colloquially called the “ESG rule,” has been challenged in both the courts and US Congress. In September 2023, a federal district court in one of the two court challenges ruled in favor of the DOL and its authority to adopt the ESG rule.
A recent news release indicates that the US Department of Labor (DOL) has an investigatory initiative focused on the issue of “insurability” under life insurance benefits. This issue arises when insurance premiums are collected for ERISA insurance benefits but there is a failure to complete the necessary process of confirming evidence of insurability. The result is that the employee believes they have insurance coverage, but coverage is not available when sought because the evidence of insurability was never completed. The DOL views such failures as a potential breach of ERISA’s fiduciary duties by either the insurer, the employer, or both.
As we have previously discussed, the SECURE Act 2.0 of 2022 (SECURE 2.0) changed the game for plan sponsors when considering whether and how to recover retirement plan overpayments. The new rules provide welcome relief and much-needed flexibility for many plan sponsors and fiduciaries who felt compelled to attempt to recover many types of overpayments or make the plan whole, even where such recovery or restoration did not materially impact plan funding.
As the US Department of Labor (DOL) continues its investigation of retirement plans and their fiduciaries, we outline nine issues that the DOL has focused on in those investigations as a guide for plan fiduciaries in navigating fiduciary compliance, including top-of-mind areas such as cybersecurity and data privacy and ESG investing.
Much has been written, on ML BeneBits and elsewhere, about the US Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) so-called “ESG Ruleissued in November 2022 (the DOL Rule). The DOL Rule, in part, addressed the appropriate factors for an ERISA fiduciary to consider when making investment decisions, including the potential use of environmental, social, and governance (hence, ESG) factors in ERISA investment decision-making. But there was more to that rule than the ESG topics that seem to dominate the spotlight.