The Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group provides comprehensive services to a wide range of businesses. Group clients include private employers of every size, publicly held companies, tax-exempt organizations, governmental entities, and financial institutions. Lawyers in the group advise clients on issues relating to qualified retirement plans, executive compensation plans, health and welfare benefit plans, and regulatory compliance. They provide firm clients with effective strategies and innovative solutions in this complex and heavily regulated area.
The Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Practice Group is rated “First Tier” in the U.S. News & World Report – Best Lawyers Law Firms® .
A properly designed and operated retirement plan is crucial to the success of any employer. Because of the significant tax advantages they offer, qualified retirement plans are heavily regulated. The Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group’s lawyers are dedicated to staying abreast of this complex area, and offer the following services:
- Retirement Plan Design & Implementation: They advise clients in the selection and maintenance of qualified retirement plans, including profit sharing plans, 401(k) plans, money purchase pension plans, stock bonus plans, employee stock ownership plans, defined benefit plans, and cash balance plans. Their plans are tailored to meet the individual needs of their clients, while at the same time complying with ever-changing IRS and Department of Labor regulations. In the tax-exempt and governmental employer arena, they advise clients in the selection and maintenance of 403(b) plans, 457(b) plans, and 457(f) plans.
- Participant Claims & Appeals: The Employee Retirement Income and Security Act (ERISA) imposes detailed requirements regarding participant claims and appeals. The group’s lawyers help clients navigate the claims and appeal process to assure that they maintain strict compliance with the law.
- Representation in Federal Examinations: The group’s lawyers represent businesses in all aspects of federal examinations by the IRS and DOL involving retirement plans. They guide their clients through the audit process and, when necessary, negotiate resolution of plan or administrative errors with the federal agencies. They also obtain determination letters from the IRS regarding the qualification of all types of retirement plans.
- Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS): The group’s lawyers assist clients in correcting retirement plan document and administrative errors through the IRS Voluntary Compliance Program (VCP). They also assist employers and plan administrators in correcting delinquent Form 5500 filings through the Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program (DFVCP). Collectively, these programs can save employers many thousands of dollars in potential penalties imposed by both the IRS.
- Qualified Domestic Relations Orders: The group’s lawyers work closely with domestic relations attorneys in preparing and reviewing qualified domestic relations orders (QDROs), which divide retirement benefits incident to divorce. With 20+ years of experience, they have prepared hundreds of QDROs dividing benefits in profit sharing plans, 401(k) plans, pension plans, PERS, Civil Service Retirement System, 403(b) plans, 457 plans, and military plans. Their streamlined approach to preparing and reviewing QDROs focuses on making their services both cost-effective and timely.
Health & Welfare Plans
Lawyers in the Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group regularly consult with businesses and their advisors on complicated issues involving employer-sponsored health and welfare plans. In this evolving area of the law, they offer the following services:
- Plan Design: Group members offer assistance to employers in designing and implementing the following types of health and welfare plans:
- Self-insured and fully-insured medical plans
- Cafeteria plans and flexible spending account plans (FSAs)
- Health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs)
- Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangements (MEWAs) and Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Associations (VEBAs)
- Wellness plans
- Health Care Reform: Group members counsel employers on the impact that Health Care Reform has on their group health benefits. They work with clients to assist them in keeping their existing health plans in compliance with new Health Care Reform requirements. They also counsel employers on the ramifications of the “Play or Pay” penalty tax which affects employers that have no group health plan, or that have a health plan that the IRS considers “unaffordable.” They recently published a comprehensive guide for employers. It can be found here.
- Reporting and Notice Requirements: Group members help employers meet their reporting and notice obligations under COBRA continuation coverage and HIPAA privacy and security rules. They also help clients process participant claims and appeals regarding their health benefits.
Lawyers in the Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group work with clients in designing executive compensation packages that minimize taxes and maximize executive retention. They draft and implement all varieties of “Top Hat” and other nonqualified deferred compensation plans, including the following:
- Supplemental Executive Retirement Plans (SERPs)
- Excess Benefit Plans
- Salary Continuation Agreements
- Stock Appreciation Rights Plans (SARs)
- Shadow Stock Plans
- Rabbi Trusts
- Section 457(b) Plans
- Section 457(f) Plans
In addition to drafting and implementing executive compensation plans, lawyers in the group also assist clients in on-going compliance with complicated regulatory requirements, such as Internal Revenue Code section 409A.
Lawyers in the Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group advise clients on the benefit aspects of mergers and acquisitions, including the following:
- Pre-sale due diligence for buyers and sellers
- Plan terminations, mergers, and spin-offs
- Fiduciary liability analysis
- COBRA compliance in workforce transitions
- Workouts and Reorganizations
- “Orphan Plan” terminations
In addition, group members regularly advise financial institutions and investors on the intricacies of making loans to qualified plans and purchasing real estate through qualified plans.
One of the most complicated aspects of ERISA is the quagmire of “fiduciary liability.” Employers who sponsor ERISA plans – and the advisors to those plans – are responsible for the proper discharge of their fiduciary obligations. Lawyers in the Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group assist employers and plan advisors with the following:
- Forming and operating Pension Committees
- Identifying and avoiding Prohibited Transactions
- 404(c) compliance, including preparation of DOL-mandated fee disclosures under 404(a)(5)
- Drafting and reviewing service agreements between plans and “covered service providers” (CSPs) under 408(b)(2)
- Preparing and reviewing investment policy statements
- Preparing submissions to the DOL Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program (VFCP) for breaches of fiduciary duty, including the late deposit of employee deferrals
In addition to representing plans and CSPs, group members also provide extensive advisory and compliance services to financial institutions that serve as trustees and/or custodians for qualified and nonqualified plans.