On March 10, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) issued a statement that it intends to revisit its final rules issued late last year on “Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments” (summarized here) and “Fiduciary Duties Regarding Proxy Voting and Shareholder Rights” (summarized here), which some viewed as restricting “do-good” or “ESG” investing by investors subject to the U.S. Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (“ERISA”).  The DOL further stated that, until it issues further guidance, the DOL will not enforce either rule or otherwise pursue enforcement actions against any ERISA plan fiduciary based on a failure to comply with those final rules with respect to an investment (including a “Qualified Default Investment Alternative” offered under a 401(k)- or 403(b)-type plan) or investment course of action or with respect to an exercise of shareholder rights.

The DOL undertook a review of these rules as part of the Biden administration’s directive to review Trump administration regulations that were inconsistent with, or presented obstacles to, the promotion and protection of public health and the environment.  The DOL reportedly heard from a wide variety of stakeholders, including asset managers, labor organizations and other plan sponsors, consumer groups, service providers, and investment advisers, who expressed the following highlighted concerns: (i) the rules did not properly reflect the scope of an ERISA plan fiduciary’s duties of prudence and loyalty, (ii) the rulemakings were unnecessarily rushed and failed to consider and address evidence from public commenters on the use of “ESG” to improve ERISA plan investment returns, and (iii) the rules (and confusion about the rules) already have had a chilling effect on the appropriate integration of “ESG” factors in ERISA plan investment decisions.

Notwithstanding the DOL’s non-enforcement statement, the regulations have not been rescinded.  Accordingly, ERISA plan fiduciaries should continue to step carefully when making “ESG”-related investment decisions and when exercising shareholder rights based on “ESG” considerations.

We will keep you posted as and when the DOL issues further guidance in this area.

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Photo of Ira G. Bogner Ira G. Bogner

Ira G. Bogner is Managing Partner of the Firm. He is the immediate former chair of the Firm’s Tax Department. He is a member of the Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group and the Firm’s Executive Committee. Ira represents a varied list of…

Ira G. Bogner is Managing Partner of the Firm. He is the immediate former chair of the Firm’s Tax Department. He is a member of the Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group and the Firm’s Executive Committee. Ira represents a varied list of clients, including financial service companies, entertainment industry clients, and tax-exempt organizations, and also actively represents individual executives in executive compensation matters.

Ira counsels clients with respect to the tax, securities law disclosure, corporate governance, stock exchange and other requirements relevant to executive compensation arrangements. Ira also provides advice regarding equity arrangements, employment agreements, change in control agreements and all other types of executive compensation arrangements, including guidance regarding “409A,” “162m,” “457A,” and “280G.”

Ira frequently is called on to structure and analyze alternative investments for pension trusts and other exempt organizations. He also works with the Firm’s corporate and real estate lawyers in structuring and maintaining investment funds that include participation by pension plans. Through his work in the investment fund area Ira has obtained substantial experience in applying the rules provided under the “plan asset” regulations, including the operation of venture capital operating companies and real estate operating companies. He has assisted in the formation of private equity, real estate, infrastructure and hedge funds, including “fund of funds.” Ira also has advised clients on both avoiding ERISA “plan asset” status and operating an investment fund in accordance with ERISA.

Areas of Concentration

Ira has provided guidance to clients on a wide variety of matters in the areas of employee benefits and executive compensation, including:

  • investment of plan assets
  • implementation of employee benefit plans

  • employee benefit issues in mergers and acquisitions

  • awarding of equity-based compensation

  • negotiation and drafting of employment agreements and severance arrangements

  • structuring, analyzing and maintaining investment funds that are suitable for plan investors

Thought Leadership

Ira has published a number of articles in publications such as The New York Law Journal, The New Jersey Law Journal, The Daily Deal, The Journal of Pension Planning and Compliance, Mergers and Acquisitions (The Monthly Tax Journal), The Journal of Taxation and Regulation of Financial Institutions, The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel, European Private Equity & Venture Capital Associations, The LPA Anatomised and Private Equity International and has been named to the Board of Advisors of the Journal of Taxation and Regulation of Financial Institutions. He also has lectured on topics such as the classification of workers, drafting employment agreements, equity alternatives for senior executives, investing IRA assets, the plan asset regulations, shareholder approval of equity plans, Code Section 409A, and key provisions for ERISA investors investing in a private equity fund.

Recognition

Ira has been recognized and ranked by various directories. US Legal 500 has carried the following comments: “Ira Bogner is ‘available, responsive and knowledgeable;” “Ira Bogner ‘provides a level of comfort with respect to business issues that is rare in the world of ERISA;” “Ira Bogner is the ‘go-to guy for fund sponsors needing help with ERISA.’”

Photo of Seth Safra Seth Safra

Seth J. Safra is chair of Proskauer’s Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group. Described by clients as “extremely knowledgeable, practical, and strategic,” Seth advises clients on compensation and benefit programs.

Seth’s experience covers a broad range of retirement plan designs, from traditional defined…

Seth J. Safra is chair of Proskauer’s Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group. Described by clients as “extremely knowledgeable, practical, and strategic,” Seth advises clients on compensation and benefit programs.

Seth’s experience covers a broad range of retirement plan designs, from traditional defined benefit to cash balance and floor-offset arrangements, ESOPs and 401(k) plans—often coordinating qualified and non-qualified arrangements. He also advises tax-exempt and governmental employers on 403(b) and 457 arrangements, as well as innovative new plan designs; and he advises on ERISA compliance for investments.

On the health and welfare side, Seth helps employers provide benefits that are cost-effective and competitive. He advises on plan design, including consumer-driven health plans with HSAs, retiree medical, fringe benefits, and severance programs, ERISA preemption, and tax and other compliance issues, such as nondiscrimination and cafeteria plan rules.

Seth also advises for-profit and non-profit employers, compensation committees, and boards on executive employment, deferred compensation, change in control, and equity and other incentive arrangements. In addition, he advises on compensation and benefits in corporate transactions.

Seth represents clients before the Department of Labor, IRS and other government agencies.

Seth has been recognized by Chambers USA, The Legal 500, Best Lawyers, Law360, Human Resource Executive, Lawdragon and Super Lawyers.

Photo of Russell Hirschhorn Russell Hirschhorn

Russell L. Hirschhorn, co-head of the ERISA Litigation Group, represents plan fiduciaries, trustees, sponsors and service providers on the full range of ERISA and state law benefit and fiduciary issues. From single plaintiff litigation and arbitration to complex class action litigation, he provides…

Russell L. Hirschhorn, co-head of the ERISA Litigation Group, represents plan fiduciaries, trustees, sponsors and service providers on the full range of ERISA and state law benefit and fiduciary issues. From single plaintiff litigation and arbitration to complex class action litigation, he provides practical guidance, develops unique litigation defense strategies and, when appropriate, mediates successful resolutions.

Russell represents clients across a wide array of publicly-held, multi-national companies and privately owned companies across a multitude of industries including, banking, finance and investments, pharmaceuticals, retail products and construction, to name just a few. In addition, he also counsels benefit plan clients on a host of compliance and federal and state government agency enforcement matters, including complex and lengthy investigations and audits by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor.

Russell is management co-chair of the American Bar Association Employee Benefits Committee as well as management co-chair of the Trial Institutes Committee of the American Bar Association’s Labor and Employment Law. He also writes on cutting-edge ERISA litigation issues, serving as a contributing author and a past chapter editor to Employee Benefits Law (BNA Third Edition).

Deeply dedicated to pro bono work, Russell was a principal drafter of several amicus briefs for the Innocence Project, a legal non-profit committed to exonerating wrongly convicted people. Russell has been recognized on several occasions for his commitment to pro bono work including by President George W. Bush in receiving the U.S. President’s Volunteer Service Award.

Photo of Adam Scoll Adam Scoll

Adam Scoll is a partner in the Firm’s Tax Department and Private Funds Group.

He specializes in the area of Title I of ERISA and the investment of ERISA “plan assets,” advising both pension trusts and their investment managers and advisers with regard…

Adam Scoll is a partner in the Firm’s Tax Department and Private Funds Group.

He specializes in the area of Title I of ERISA and the investment of ERISA “plan assets,” advising both pension trusts and their investment managers and advisers with regard to compliance with ERISA’s complex fiduciary duty and prohibited transaction rules.

Adam regularly advises private investment fund sponsors regarding the structuring of their funds in order to accept investments from ERISA-covered pension trusts, including compliance with the ERISA “plan asset” regulations and the operation of venture capital operating companies (VCOCs) and real estate operating companies (REOCs).

Adam also represents both employers and senior executives in the negotiation and drafting of employment and separation agreements, deferred compensation plans, and equity and “phantom equity” arrangements, including compliance with the nonqualified deferred compensation rules under Sections 409A and 457A of the Internal Revenue Code.