On April 16, 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released proposed regulations covering wellness programs that involve disability-related inquiries or medical examinations. The release of the proposed regulations follows months of EEOC enforcement actions against employers alleging that wellness programs sponsored by the employers violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) despite compliance with 2013 regulations jointly issued by the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that permitted such programs under ERISA and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). With a few notable exceptions (described below), the proposed regulations are somewhat consistent with the existing DOL guidance on employer-sponsored wellness programs. However, the EEOC has requested comments on multiple topics that could significantly alter the regulatory requirements.
Prior to the enactment of the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 (“TIPA”) in December 2014, effective for 2014, mass transit commuters were only able to contribute a maximum of $130 per month on a pre-tax basis toward their transit expenses (a reduction from $245 per month permitted in 2013). TIPA retroactively increased the maximum pre-tax contribution limit for employees’ mass transit commuting expenses to the level permitted for parking expenses, i.e., $250 per month, as provided under Code Section 132(f). However, this increased monthly cap expired again on December 31, 2014, so it is currently capped at $130 for 2015, unless Congress extends it further. If this sounds familiar, it is. Congress took similar action to retroactively increase benefits in 2012, and the IRS issued similar guidance on retroactive adjustments in early 2013.
In recent talks and appearances, representatives of the U.S. Department of Labor have issued a warning about new areas of focus of DOL audits and enforcement actions. While there are a number of different enforcement priorities, we discuss two of them—health plan claims and appeals and valuation of hard to value assets— here because these are areas in which the DOL has traditionally not spent significant time on audit. In addition, these issues share the common characteristic of being able to be “cleaned up” in advance of an audit if plan fiduciaries take some common sense steps.
Contributing employers to multiemployer plans were relieved by the Treasury Department’s interim guidance stating that they will not be subject to the employer shared responsibility payments under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) with respect to employees for whom they contribute to a multiemployer plan that provides minimum value, offers dependent child coverage and is affordable. (See our blog posting here.) Since relief is provided for all employees for whom contributions are made to a multiemployer plan, regardless of whether coverage is offered, the question of whether an employee is full-time is largely irrelevant to the relief. That led many employers to believe mistakenly that they do not have to determine the full-time status of these employees, allowing these employers to avoid the administrative complications associated with tracking employees who, in many industries, are variable hour employees. Unfortunately, this belief is not well-grounded.
On August 14, 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) provided new guidance to plan fiduciaries of terminated defined contribution plans for locating missing and unresponsive participants in order to distribute their benefits. The guidance comes in the form of Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) No. 2014-01, which replaces FAB No. 2004-02. As discussed below, the guidance may also prove useful in finding missing and unresponsive participants in other circumstances as well.
As employers plan for paying various health care reform fees, one question that arises is whether the fees owed are tax deductible. In particular, it has been unclear whether the fees paid pursuant the Affordable Care Act to fund the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (“PCORI”) would be deductible business expenses under Section 162 of the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”). On June 7, 2013, the Office of the Chief Counsel of the IRS released a memorandum concluding that, in general, the payment of the PCORI fee should be tax deductible as an ordinary business expense.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage at the federal level as a legal union between one man and one woman and excuses states from any obligation to recognize same-sex marriages recognized in any other state. As a result, many states have enacted so-called “mini-DOMA” laws providing that those states will not recognize for any purpose same-sex marriages recognized in other states.
As has been widely reported, DOMA’s constitutionality is currently under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor and a decision is expected in June. If DOMA is struck down, employers and other benefit plan sponsors should consider the potential effects not only on the definition of “spouse” for benefits purposes, but also the definition of “child.”
On January 2, 2013, President Obama signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (“ATRA”) into law. ATRA, adopted as an alternative to stepping over the “fiscal cliff,” preserves most of the Bush-era tax cuts and reinstates several other lapsed tax provisions. Several provisions of ATRA are of particular interest to employers, employees, and employee benefit administrators, because they offer new options for retirement planning or extend certain existing benefits options. Even more recently, the IRS has issued guidance with respect to certain key aspects of ATRA related to qualified transportation fringe benefits.