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

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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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

IRS Extends Participant Eligibility for Distributions and Loans Under the CARES Act

In Notice 2020-50, the IRS expanded eligibility for CARES Act distributions and loans, and provided additional guidance.  To recap (as described here), the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) added three types of distribution and loan flexibility under eligible retirement plans for certain “qualified individuals”: (1) “coronavirus-related distributions” (“CRDs”) up to $100,000 … Continue Reading

DOL Information Letter Outlines Fiduciary Considerations for Including Private Equity Allocations in Defined Contribution Plan Investments

On June 3, 2020, the Department of Labor (the “DOL”) published an Information Letter confirming that investment options under a defined contribution plan (e.g., a 401(k) or 403(b) plan) may include a limited allocation to private equity.  Notably, the Letter does not discuss direct investment in private equity funds (for example, by adding a PE … Continue Reading

IRS Expands Mid-Year Change Opportunities for Health and FSA Benefits and Increases Carryover Limit

On May 12, 2020, the IRS released Notice 2020-29, which provides significant flexibility for health insurance and flexible spending account election changes during 2020, and Notice 2020-33, which increases the amount that may be carried over from one year to the next under a health flexible spending account (FSA).  The guidance allows increased flexibility for … Continue Reading

New IRS Guidance Answers Pressing CARES Act Questions for Retirement Plans

On May 4th, the IRS released a set of FAQs focused on the special coronavirus-related distribution (“CRD”) and plan loan options under the CARES Act (described here). To recap, the CARES Act allows expanded distribution options and favorable tax treatment for up to $100,000 of CRDs from eligible retirement plans (including section 401(k) and 403(b) … Continue Reading

DOL/Treasury COVID-19 Relief Includes Long Extension of Participant Deadlines and Rule of Reasonableness for Plan Administration

On April 29, 2020, the U.S. Departments of Labor (Employee Benefits Security Administration, “EBSA”) and Treasury (IRS) published a final regulation, and EBSA issued a package of guidance and relief, for employee benefit plans affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.  EBSA’s package includes (i) EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2020-1, (ii) DOL COVID-19 FAQs for Participants and … Continue Reading

Executive Compensation Considerations for COVID-19 (Salary/Wage Reductions)

COVID-19 has had significant impacts on all aspects of business.  While employers are assessing how to handle immediate employee needs related to sick leave, family leave and benefits claims, employers should also consider the impact that changes in their workforce or economic conditions will have on their compensation plans and programs. Click here to read … Continue Reading

Coronavirus Stimulus Deal’s Impact on Employee Benefit Plans

On March 27th, Congress passed a stimulus package in response to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.  The package, which is entitled the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act” or the “Act”), contains several provisions that affect employee benefits. Retirement Plans Early “Coronavirus-Related Distributions”: The CARES Act allows plans to offer “coronavirus-related distributions” up … Continue Reading

IRS Loosens HSA Rules for Coronavirus

On March 11, 2020, the IRS issued Notice 2020-15, to address an important coronavirus issue for high-deductible health plans that are coordinated with health savings accounts (“HSAs”).  The guidance paves the way for health plans to waive or reduce deductibles for any “medical care services and items purchased relating to testing for and treatment of … Continue Reading

SECURE Act: Two Key Changes for Defined Benefit Plans

As part of our ongoing series on the SECURE Act, this post discusses two key changes affecting defined benefit plans: (1) the ability to start in-service distributions at age 59½ (reduced from 62), and (2) new tools for closed defined benefit plans to pass nondiscrimination tests.  Below we discuss each change and its potential impact … Continue Reading

Guide to DOL’s New “Notice and Access” Proposal for Electronic Delivery

On October 23, 2019, the Department of Labor published a new proposed regulation that paves the way for “notice and access” electronic delivery of certain disclosures for retirement plans.  The proposal is welcome news for plan sponsors and administrators who have been frustrated by the existing “opt-in” regime for electronic disclosure.  But the proposal is … Continue Reading
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