Our employee benefits and executive compensation practice is available to help employers evaluate and troubleshoot potential issues arising from the changing work environment and economic situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This guidance reviews the employee benefits and executive compensation issues that we have been assisting clients with in the last few days.

Please contact the authors or your Morgan Lewis contacts if you have questions related to employee benefits and executive compensation in the midst of coronavirus COVID-19. For updated, comprehensive information about COVID-19, please see our resource page.

The US Supreme Court recently decided a closely watched ERISA case against employers and fiduciaries. Under Section 413 of ERISA, the statute of limitations for a fiduciary breach claim is shortened from six years to three years if the plaintiff has “actual knowledge” of the breach.

On February 26, the Supreme Court determined in Intel Corp. Investment Policy Committee v. Sulyma that the six-year statute may apply—even if the fiduciary disclosed its actions to participants in accordance with ERISA—if the participants failed to read or could not remember reading the disclosures. In the Court’s unanimous view, “actual knowledge” means the participant must have become aware of the relevant information.

Ever since defined contribution plans have come to dominate the retirement plan landscape, both plan sponsors and policymakers have grappled with how to help employees take a lifetime’s worth of savings and convert it into a sustainable source of retirement income. One way to help participants meet retirement income needs is to integrate guaranteed income products into defined contribution plan lineups. Fiduciaries have expressed concern, however, about potential liability they may face for the selection of annuity providers. The SECURE Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 20, 2019, may help allay those concerns.

The outsourcing of retirement plan recordkeeping and other administrative responsibilities has increased in recent years for both defined contribution and defined benefit plans. Although there is no overarching privacy law governing retirement plans, fiduciaries must adhere to the “prudent expert” standard of care in fulfilling their duties, and be continuously diligent and attentive to the privacy and security of participant data.

This diligence extends to the structuring of outsourcing agreements for administrative responsibilities. Read this post from our Tech & Sourcing @ Morgan Lewis blog for more data security considerations in plan administration outsourcing agreements.

Enacted in 1974, ERISA celebrates its 45th birthday this year. A lot has changed in those 45 years. While ERISA has kept up with the changes at time, one area where ERISA has not stayed current is Section 404(b). Here we discuss this section in brief and offer a word of caution to ERISA fiduciaries pursuing global investment strategies.

ERISA Section 404(b) is a sneaky section, stuck between two arguably more prominent sections: Section 404(a), which sets forth the fiduciary duties, and Section 404(c), which helps fiduciaries protect themselves against claims of breach of those duties. But there between them—clocking in at a slim 44 words—is Section 404(b):

Indicia of Ownership of Assets Outside the Jurisdiction of District Courts.—Except as authorized by the Secretary by regulation, no fiduciary may maintain the indicia of ownership of any assets of a plan outside the jurisdiction of the district courts of the United States.

The Basics

Representations and warranties insurance (R&W Insurance) protects a party from financial losses resulting from inaccuracies in the representations and warranties made about a target company or business in connection with certain corporate transactions such as mergers and acquisitions. R&W Insurance policies are made up of both buy-side (most common) and sell-side policies.

In a traditional buy-side R&W Insurance policy, the buyer is the insured and the objective is to provide coverage against financial loss suffered as a result of a breach of the seller’s representations and warranties. The parties’ exposure in the case of a breach of the representations and warranties is limited to a relatively low amount referred to as the retention amount. In most R&W Insurance policies, the retention amount is generally equal to between 1–3% of the enterprise value of the transaction. The R&W Insurance policy protects against any exposure in excess of the retention amount and up to a negotiated limit.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has primary jurisdiction over the qualified status of retirement plans, and this jurisdiction includes examining plans. An IRS agent can notify a plan sponsor at any time that its plan has been selected for audit. A plan sponsor should thus consider a compliance self-review to minimize the pain of audit and ensure that the plan is operating correctly, that its plan documents comport with plan operation, and that plan records are complete and organized before the IRS comes knocking. Please see our recent LawFlash detailing the top 10 issues of IRS focus in its audit of qualified plans. Also, please see our prior LawFlash addressing the top 10 areas of focus in US Department of Labor (DOL) investigations of retirement plans.

If you have questions about IRS or DOL investigations of retirement plans, please reach out to the LawFlash authors or your Morgan Lewis contacts.

The US Department of Labor has been extremely active in recent years as the federal agency investigating compliance with and enforcing the fiduciary responsibility provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA). These investigations have frequently resulted in findings of fiduciary breach and monetary recoveries for ERISA retirement plans. Please see our recent LawFlash on this topic, and reach out to the LawFlash authors or your Morgan Lewis contacts if you have additional questions.

The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) at the US Department of Labor (DOL) compiles statistics every year to measure its activities as the agency responsible for investigating and enforcing the fiduciary duties under ERISA. Statistics for the agency’s 2018 fiscal year enforcement activities affirm that EBSA’s enforcement program remains extremely active, with a particular focus on terminated vested participant investigations.

In June 2018, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit officially ordered the US Department of Labor (DOL) to vacate the so-called DOL Fiduciary Rule—the name generally used to refer to the 2016 amendment to the definition of fiduciary “investment advice” under ERISA and Internal Revenue Code Section 4975—and its related exemptions. As a result of this order and the DOL’s decision not to appeal, the DOL Fiduciary Rule is regarded as effectively repealed, leaving just the formality of removing it from the Code of Federal Regulations. But the rule continues to influence developments not only in the retirement area, but also beyond.