Employee benefits programs are crucial to attracting, motivating and retaining employees and serve to assist in maintaining continuity in a workforce. These programs can be complicated due to consistent changes in the law including with regard to tax laws, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), and various market conditions. Nevertheless, it is important to stay abreast of these and other changes in order to maintain compliant programs.
At Epstein Becker Green (EBG), our employee benefits lawyers know every facet of employee benefits law, including the design, structure, implementation, administration, and termination of all types of retirement, executive compensation, and health and welfare benefit plans. We help our foreign and domestic clients, including taxable and tax-exempt entities, from many different industries comply with the state and federal requirements governing employee benefits. And we collaborate with human resources departments, in-house counsel, and other benefits professionals to achieve sound, cost-effective results through a responsive approach that puts our clients’ business goals first. When legal disputes or government actions arise, our ERISA and employee benefit litigators can resolve the matter quickly and efficiently so that our clients can get back to business.
Because rules and regulations for plan design, funding, and compensation keep changing, we stay in constant contact with our clients, interpreting regulatory shifts and delivering practical, easy-to-understand solutions. Our employee benefits lawyers not only provide outstanding support to clients on current issues as they arise, but also stay ahead of the curve on a variety of significant issues.
EBG’s employee benefits lawyers provide comprehensive legal services relating to the following types of plans:
- We structure, implement, administer, and terminate all types of retirement plans, such as 401(k), defined benefit (including cash balance and pension), profit sharing, money purchase, and target benefit plans. Our work ranges from preparing plan documents, trust agreements, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filings, and summary plan descriptions to rendering advice on related ERISA, tax, and securities law matters. We provide full operational support and work to ensure that our clients’ retirement plans stay in compliance with ERISA statutory requirements, the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), and other federal and state requirements. Additionally, we conduct compliance audits and handle submissions under the IRS's Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System and the Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
Welfare Benefit Plans
- Our team advises clients with respect to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, tax and ERISA issues relating to the establishment and administration of welfare benefit plans (e.g., group health, cafeteria plans, voluntary employees’ beneficiary associations (VEBAs), severance plans, health and disability plans, and retiree benefits plans). Our employee benefits lawyers advise clients all aspects of Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) administration, and advise on the application of requirements under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), including the privacy rules, health-status discrimination, and special enrollment rules.
- We draft plan documents and provide advice with respect to the structuring of welfare benefit plans and their administration. We also consult on the termination of welfare benefit plans and on the reduction of welfare benefits.
Deferred Compensation and Non-Qualified Plans
- Our employee benefits lawyers design, draft, and implement deferred compensation plans, including supplemental and excess plans, long term incentive plans, and broad-based stock purchase plans, such as IRC Section 423 plans. We also provide advice with respect to the ERISA, tax, and securities law aspects of non-qualified plans, including the issues that arise under IRC Sections 409A and 457, as well as alternative methods of "securing" the employer's commitments under the plan or agreement (e.g., using a grantor or "rabbi" trust).
Executive Compensation Plans
- Executive compensation plans are vital to attracting and retaining key employees. Thus, our employee benefits lawyers help clients identify and then institute and maintain an executive compensation program carefully tailored to their organization's needs. Our experience includes representing employers and executives in connection with the negotiation of employment and severance agreements, and on a variety of executive compensation benefits, including stock options, restricted stock, stock appreciation rights, performance units, deferred compensation, loans, performance shares, and phantom stocks. We also advise on the legal ramifications of these instruments, including the effects of ERISA and tax, securities, labor, and corporate laws, and their implications in mergers and other transactions. Additionally, our assignments often involve international and expatriate executive compensation and employment-related matters.
- We provide advice regarding the obligations of multiemployer plan fiduciaries on plan administration, permitted and prohibited transactions, investment selections, government registrations, agreements with service providers, plan communications, and tax-related matters, among other things.
Our employee benefits lawyers also have extensive experience handling the following:
- EBG helps clients effectively communicate benefits issues to their employees and plan participants. Weadvise clients on meeting their obligations to provide accurate summary plan descriptions, prepare required notices under ERISA and/or the IRC, craft responses to individual participant inquiries regarding rights under a particular plan, and prepare required notices to participants in connection with certain submissions to government agencies. In addition, our employee benefits lawyers assist in developing comprehensive communication programs that relate specifically to a client’s 401(k) plans. Certainly, client requests for assistance with the preparation or review of employee or plan participant communications can arise in many contexts. We are well equipped to address those requests as they arise.
ERISA Fiduciary Matters
- Being an ERISA fiduciary is a huge responsibility fraught with risks. Accordingly, we guide employers, Benefits Committees, investment managers and advisors, trustees, and other plan service providers through ERISA’s fiduciary requirements and applicable DOL regulations to help minimize the risk of liability. We also provide advice on prohibited transaction and prudence questions, help structure the allocation of fiduciary responsibilities, consult on a wide variety of pension investment questions, establish governance best practices, conduct training, and advise on fiduciary responsibilities.
Mergers & Acquisitions/Downsizing
- Employee benefits are a critical, yet often overlooked, aspect of corporate restructuring. Potential mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures, and divestitures can be jeopardized by the improper handling of employee benefits liabilities. To help clients avoid these pitfalls, our employee benefits lawyers analyze and negotiate the pension, welfare, and executive compensation aspects of those transactions; correct any benefit plan-related problems or liabilities; and counsel on the consolidation and rationalization of benefit plans after a transaction is completed. Additionally, if an employer needs to "down" or "right" size, we have extensive experience designing severance and early retirement programs to ease the transition and counseling on compliance with all relevant federal and state laws.
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation Matters
- Our employee benefits lawyers advise on Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) matters, including plan terminations, liability of controlled group members for pension plan funding deficiencies, and multiemployer plan withdrawals. In addition, we help our clients avoid PBGC, IRS, and DOL actions through document reviews, self-audits, and other customized compliance programs.