Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Blog

The View from Proskauer on Developments in the World of Employee Benefits, Executive Compensation & ERISA Litigation

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Seth Safra

Partner

Seth J. Safra is a partner in 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. Seth also advises on ERISA compliance for investments, including the U.S. Department of Labor’s new conflict of interest (fiduciary) rules.

On the health and welfare side, Seth helps employers provide benefits that are cost-effective and competitive. He advises on health plans with HSAs and HRAs and also on severance and fringe benefit arrangements.

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Proxy Season Greetings: ISS and Glass Lewis Announce Policy Updates Ahead of the 2023 Proxy Season

Proxy advisory firms Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis (“GL”) each published their annual policy updates for 2023, which updates made certain changes relating to executive compensation.[1]  As a general matter, the changes are incremental to the existing policies and do not significantly change the rubric by which ISS and GL review compensation programs. … Continue Reading

DOL’s Final ESG Rules Reflect Warmer Attitude Toward ESG, But Maintain Bedrock Principle that Risk and Return Cannot Be Sacrificed

On November 22, 2022, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (the “DOL”) released final regulations (the “Final Rules”) that are intended to be more supportive of ERISA fiduciaries considering environmental, social, and governance factors (“ESG”) in investment decisions as compared to the Trump administration’s 2020 regulations (the “2020 Regulations”).  The Final Rules … Continue Reading

Final SEC Clawback Rules: Key Dates that Issuers Need to Know

On November 28, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) published the final clawback rules (the “Final Rules”) under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”) in the Federal Register. Now that the Final Rules have been published in the Federal Register, issuers should be aware of the following key deadlines[1]: … Continue Reading

IRS Opens Determination Letter Program to Individually Designed 403(b) Plans

On October 21st, the IRS announced changes to its qualified plan determination letter program. Most notably, the program has been expanded to include section 403(b) tax-sheltered annuity plans (“403(b) plans”). Although 403(b) plans are similar to tax-qualified defined contribution plans (“401(a) plans”), they are subject to unique rules, and, until now, the IRS has not … Continue Reading

Long Time Coming: SEC Adopts Final Dodd-Frank Clawback Rules

Twelve years after the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and many years after the Securities and Exchange Commission started considering regulations implementing the clawback provisions of Dodd-Frank, the SEC published the Final “Clawback” Rules (the “Final Rules”) on October 26, 2022. The Final Rules task national securities exchanges (“exchanges”) … Continue Reading

Practical Considerations for New Pay vs. Performance Disclosure Requirement

The SEC’s final rule on Pay Versus Performance becomes effective on October 8, 2022, and will require new executive compensation disclosures for the upcoming proxy season (for annual proxy statements that include executive compensation disclosure for fiscal years ending on or after December 16, 2022). The new rule implements a requirement of the 2010 Dodd-Frank … Continue Reading

Second Circuit Decision Illustrates Importance of Following Claims Procedures, and Drastic Consequences of Procedural Misstep

In McQuillin v. Hartford Life and Accident Ins. Co., 36 F.4th 416 (2d Cir. 2022), the U.S Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit restored a claimant’s action for disability benefits due to the plan administrator’s failure to adhere to a procedural deadline.  The Court concluded that the administrator’s failure resulted in automatic exhaustion of … Continue Reading

A Conjunction is Worth Thousands of Dollars: Recent Case Highlights Significance of “And” vs. “Or”

You do not need a Lexis or Westlaw subscription to know that major cases and significant judgments have sometimes hinged on the meaning of a single word, or the placement of a single Oxford comma. We have a recent case to add to the list: Weinberg v. Waystar, Inc., et al., which was an executive … Continue Reading

Ninth Circuit Defers to Plan Design and Administrative Discretion on Bounds of Mental Health Coverage

A recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Wit et al. v. United Behavioral Health and Alexander et al. v. United Behavioral Health) exemplifies the challenge in balancing a desire to cover evolving treatments for mental health and substance abuse disorders against plan sponsors’ and insurers’ general authority over plan … Continue Reading

Congress Reopens Door For HSA With No-Deductible Telehealth, But With a Hole

Effective April 1, 2022, high-deductible health plans can once again offer first-dollar coverage for telehealth and other remote services without making participants ineligible for health savings account (“HSA”) contributions.  The relief runs only through the end of 2022, and the regular high-deductible health plan requirements generally apply for the months of January through March 2022.  … Continue Reading

DOL Statement on Private Equity Investment Emphasizes Fiduciary Responsibility

On December 21, 2021, the Department of Labor (the “DOL”) published a Supplemental Statement (the “Supplemental Statement”) to its June 3, 2020 Information Letter (the “2020 Letter”) addressing fiduciary considerations for including private equity within an investment option under an ERISA-covered defined contribution plan (e.g., a 401(k) or 403(b) plan).  In response to questions and … Continue Reading

DOL’s Latest ESG Proposal: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

On October 14, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (the “DOL”) published in the Federal Register a new proposed regulation (the “Proposed Rules”)[1] on fiduciary responsibility in selecting ERISA plan investments and exercising shareholder rights (proxy voting). The Proposed Rules reflect an effort to “warm” what the current DOL perceives as … Continue Reading

Fifth Circuit Rules that Project Completion Bonus is Not an ERISA Severance Plan

Whether a one-time payment of benefits constitutes an employee benefit plan under ERISA has been the source of some consternation in the courts for many years.  The Fifth Circuit, in Atkins v. CB&I, LLC, recently had occasion to consider the issue and held that a bonus conditioned on completing a project was not an ERISA … Continue Reading

What Happens Abroad, Apparently Does Not Stay Abroad – DOL Revokes Trump Administration Guidance That Provided Relief to QPAMs for Convictions Under Foreign Law

On November 3, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Solicitor of Labor (the “DOL”) issued an opinion letter (the “2020 Letter”) to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (“SIFMA”) stating that it would not view a conviction under foreign law as a disqualifying event under Prohibited Transaction Class Exemption 84-14 (the … Continue Reading

DOL Will Not Enforce Trump Administration’s ERISA “ESG” Investing and Proxy Voting Rules

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 … Continue Reading

Biden Administration Requests Review of DOL’s Final “ESG” Rules for ERISA Fiduciaries – What Does that Mean for the DOL’s Final Proxy Voting Rules?

On October 30, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) issued a final rule on “ESG” investing (summarized here) which requires ERISA plan fiduciaries to base investment decisions on financial factors alone, prohibits fiduciaries from selecting investments based on non-pecuniary considerations, and which could restrict “do-good” or “ESG” investing (the “ESG Rule”).  However, the … Continue Reading

Tax-Exempt Executive Compensation Excise Tax Regulations (Section 4960) Finalized

Employers that are tax-exempt or have tax-exempt affiliates (for example, a foundation) should pay close attention to a 21% excise tax under Section 4960 of the Internal Revenue Code on certain executive compensation.  Final Regulations under Section 4960 are described here.  The discussion includes traps for the unwary.  Please reach out to your Proskauer contact … Continue Reading

DOL Finalizes New Prohibited Transaction Exemption for “Investment Advice”, With Statement That Fiduciary Standard May Apply to IRA Rollover Guidance

****UPDATE:  The Exemption described in this notice appears to be covered by the regulatory freeze described in this Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, issued by Chief of Staff Ronald A. Klain on January 20, 2021.  Accordingly, we expect the effective date of the Exemption to be postponed for 60 days (until March 22, … Continue Reading

EEOC Proposed Wellness Regulation Restricts Incentives For Voluntary Programs But Offers Path For Programs That Satisfy ACA Standard

****UPDATE:  These proposed regulations were not published in the Federal Register before President Biden’s inauguration.  In accordance with the Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, issued by Chief of Staff Ronald A. Klain, the proposed regulations have been withdrawn for review by the Biden administration.**** On January 7th, the EEOC released proposed … Continue Reading

DOL Issues Final “ESG” Rule Restricting ERISA Fiduciary Consideration of Non-Pecuniary Investment Factors

On October 30, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) issued a final rule on factors for selecting plan investments, which restricts “do-good” or “ESG” investing.  In response to public comments, the final rule rolls back some of the restrictions and burdens from its proposed rule issued in June (summarized here), but it reaffirms … Continue Reading

To Vote, or Not to Vote, That is the DOL’s Proxy Voting Question for ERISA Fiduciaries

On September 4, 2020, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) published a proposed rule (the “Proposed Rule”) that would confirm its position that ERISA’s fiduciary duties of prudence and loyalty apply to an ERISA plan fiduciary’s exercise of shareholder rights, including proxy voting, proxy voting policies and guidelines, and the selection and monitoring of proxy advisory … Continue Reading

American Airlines 401(k) Plan Not Required To Offer Stable Value Fund

Among the many claims brought by plaintiffs challenging investment offerings in defined contribution plans is the claim that plans should offer stable value funds in lieu of more conservative capital preservation funds, such as money market funds and deposit accounts that are insured by the U.S. government.  Plaintiffs have argued that stable value funds are … Continue Reading

10 Keys to Executive Compensation Excise Tax for Tax-Exempt Employers and Their Affiliates

Employers that are tax-exempt or have tax-exempt affiliates (for example, a foundation) should pay close attention to a 21% excise tax under Section 4960 of the Internal Revenue Code on certain executive compensation.  Proposed Regulations under Section 4960 are described here.  The discussion includes traps for the unwary.  Please reach out to your Proskauer contact … Continue Reading

New DOL Fiduciary Rule Package: What You Really Need to Know

The U.S. Department of Labor’s (the “DOL”) new “fiduciary rule” package, issued on June 29, 2020, and published in the Federal Register on July 7, 2020, has three important components: The DOL has formally reinstated its “five-part test” initially set forth in its 1975 regulation for determining whether a person is a “fiduciary” by reason … Continue Reading
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