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Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation

Attorneys in the Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation practice area provide counsel to clients regarding the application of the Internal Revenue Code and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) to benefit plans, agreements and compensation programs. Practice area members continually review and analyze the latest developments in the fields of employee benefits and executive compensation in order to provide the most current advice to clients in this fast-evolving area of legal practice. Members strive to provide practical and straightforward compliance strategies with regard to this complex area of regulation, working closely with human resources personnel, plan administrative professionals and other plan advisors. Via the firm’s quarterly For Your Benefit newsletter, blog posts and alerts, the team shares compliance tips, deadlines and other critical developments with those responsible for benefit and compensation compliance.

PRACTICE HIGHLIGHTS

Retirement Plans

  • 401(k), 403(b) and 457 plans
  • Qualified profit sharing and money purchase pension plans
  • Defined benefit pension plans, including cash balance plans
  • Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs)
  • Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs)
  • Taft-Hartley plans
  • Government and church plans

The Employee Benefits team has extensive experience with all issues related to the establishment and administration of retirement plans and have assisted clients in all aspects of the process from deciding what form of retirement plan best suits the particular client’s needs to terminating qualified plans. In addition, they routinely handle such interim matters as the drafting of documents, initial qualification procedures, review of Form 5500 annual reports, drafting of summary plan descriptions, review of qualified domestic relations orders and changes to plan documents to insure continued compliance with governing law. Members also review and negotiate investment management contracts and pooled and collective investment arrangements for plans.

Administration of retirement plans can be challenging. Our attorneys have substantial experience helping clients navigate these compliance issues, including contribution calculations, negotiations with vendors, review of agreements with service providers, nondiscrimination testing and IRS correction applications. Group members regularly provide fiduciary training and governance advice to plan fiduciaries and review domestic relations orders for compliance with ERISA requirements.

Welfare and Fringe Benefit Plans

  • Group health plans, including insured and self-funded arrangements
  • Health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), both integrated and stand-alone retiree plans
  • Health savings accounts (HSAs)
  • Cafeteria plans, including health FSAs and dependent care assistance accounts
  • Group life, disability and indemnity plans
  • COBRA, HIPAA, GINA, and ADA compliance
  • Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Associations (VEBAs)
  • Commuter benefits, tuition assistance and other fringe benefit plans

Attorneys in the Employee Benefits area frequently advise employers regarding compliance with the Affordable Care Act, including reporting obligations, penalties and Mental Health Parity Act compliance.

Given the heightened scrutiny placed on data security, team members assist with targeted HIPAA training for employees who have access to protected health information, and provide counsel regarding HIPAA privacy and security compliance efforts.

Administration of cafeteria plans generates compliance questions during open enrollment and throughout the year due to mid-year enrollment change requests. Attorneys on the Employee Benefits team routinely assist clients with these administrative and tax issues. In addition, practice members frequently assist clients with income, employment tax and ERISA administrative issues that arise under group life, disability and other welfare benefit plans.

Executive Compensation

  • Equity compensation, including incentive and nonqualified options, restricted equity and restricted equity units
  • Non-qualified deferred compensation plans, coordinated with a rabbi trust, a secular trust, or no funding arrangement
  • Supplemental executive retirement plans (SERPs)
  • Severance and Change in Control plans and agreements
  • Phantom equity arrangements
  • Executive employment agreements
  • Section 457 plans for governmental and tax-exempt organizations
  • Annual and long-term incentive compensation arrangements

Practice area members are well-versed with the complex tax and design issues involved with each of the foregoing types of arrangements, working with executives, compensation consultants and other advisors on the complex tax and design issues involved with executive compensation plans and arrangements. This advice includes drafting and amending plan documents, award agreements and employee communications.

Both public and private companies face compliance challenges with the strict rules under Section 409A of the Internal Revenue Code. The reach of these tax provisions extends to employment agreements, severance programs, change of control agreements, deferred compensation programs and annual and long-term bonus programs. Team members regularly advise clients on design, administration and correction assistance.

Joint Boards of Trustees

Lawyers within the Employee Benefits practice area represent several employee/employer, joint trusteed pension and welfare plans including Taft-Hartley and public retirement plans and systems. The unique issues raised by these plans requires experienced counsel, and the lawyers in the employee benefits group the requisite experience to assist trustees with their fiduciaries duties. The Employee Benefits team has experience in advising companies in connection with planning for withdrawal liability of Taft-Hartley Plans and in litigation, if necessary, following the withdrawal.

Government Plans and Systems

The Employee Benefits lawyers have extensive experience in bringing governmental plans and systems into compliance with the Internal Revenue Code, including modifying such arrangements to convert employee contributions from after-tax contributions to pre-tax contributions. Members of the practice routinely attend meetings of trustees of such plans and systems and handle problems which are unique to government retirement arrangements.

IRS & DOL Practice and Procedure

In this period of increased audits of retirement plans by the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor, the Employee Benefits attorneys have experience in all aspects of the audit process. This experience includes resolved audits for clients, both at the initial stage through conferences with the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor, as well as later stages through the submission of closing agreements to the Internal Revenue Service.

Prohibited Transactions

Lawyers within the Employee Benefits practice area have extensive experience in applying the prohibited transaction rules of ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code to plan operations and investment. Many prohibited transactions may be corrected under Department of Labor procedures, and group members have considerable experience guiding plan fiduciaries through this complex process.

Corporate Mergers and Acquisitions

The Employee Benefits lawyers work in collaboration with other firm attorneys in handling employee benefits in connection with mergers and acquisitions including assumption of multi-employer liability in connection with acquisitions. Complex integration issues arise when acquired employees and plans are integrated into existing arrangements or divested employees are transitioned to new programs. Lawyers in the practice area have assisted numerous employers through this process, with a focus on practical, efficient results.

For Your Benefit Newsletters

For more information, please contact one of our Tax/Employee Benefits/Trusts & Estates attorneys.