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Auditing standards board approves new employee benefit plan auditing standard: What you need to know

10.30.18

Reading through the 133-page exposure draft for the Proposed Statement on Auditing Standards (SAS) Forming an Opinion and Reporting on Financial Statements of Employee Benefit Plans Subject to ERISA, issued back in April 2017, and then comparing it to the final 100+ page standard approved in September 2018, may not sound like a fun way to spend a Sunday morning sipping a coffee (or three), but I disagree.

Lucky for you, I have captured the highlights here. And it really is exciting. Our feedback was incorporated into the final standard both through written comments on the exposure draft and a voice via our firm’s Director of Quality Assurance, who holds a seat on the Auditing Standards Board.

"Limited scope" audits will no longer exist

The debate over the “limited scope” audit has been going on for years. The new standard is designed to help auditors clearly understand their responsibilities in performing an audit, and provide plan sponsors, plan participants, the Department of Labor (DOL), and other interested parties with more information about what auditors do in situations when audits are limited in scope by the plan’s management, which is permitted by DOL reporting and disclosure rules.

Once effective, Audit Committee and Board of Director meetings in which plan financial statements are presented will include more clarity into what an employee benefit plan audit entails, based on revisions to the auditor’s report. I know I would frequently kick off meetings covering the auditor’s report opinion by explaining what a “limited scope” audit was. As a “limited scope” audit will no longer exist, the revised auditor’s report language clearly articulates what the auditor is, and is not, opining on.

When is the new standard effective?

The effective date is “to be determined” as it will be aligned with the new overall auditor’s reporting standard once that is finalized, and the standard does not permit early adoption. So there is still time to educate and prepare all parties involved.

Probably the biggest conversation piece around the water cooler for the new standard is the lingo. The “limited scope” audit language will be going away and now the auditor’s report and all related language will refer to an “ERISA section 103(a)(3)(C)” audit. I know, it’s a mouthful?try and say that one three times fast!

The auditor's report will look much different

The auditor’s report under an ERISA section 103(a)(3)(C) audit will look significantly different from the old “limited scope” auditor’s report, once the standard is effective. There are several illustrative examples of reports included in the standard to refer to. One thing you will immediately notice?the auditor’s report is getting longer and not shorter. Some highlights:

The Opinion section will include two bullets that explicitly state, in basic summarized terms: (1) the certified information agrees to the financial statements, and (2)  the auditor’s opinion on everything else, which the auditor has audited.

Other Matter—Supplemental Schedules Required by ERISA section will include two bullets that explicitly state, in basic summarized terms, (1) the certified information agrees to the financial statements and (2) the auditor’s opinion on everything else, which the auditor has audited in relation to the financial statements. Sound similar to the Opinion section? Well, that’s because it is!).

Other key takeaways

  • Auditors will be required to make inquiries of management to gain assurance they performed procedures to determine the certifying institution is qualified for the ERISA section 103(a)(3)(C) audit, as it is management’s responsibility to make that determination.
  • Fair value disclosures included within the plan’s financial statements are also included under the certification umbrella and subject to the same audit procedures. As an auditor, if anything comes to our attention that does not meet expectations, we would further assess as necessary.
  • The auditor is required to obtain and read a draft Form 5500 prior to issuance of the auditor’s report.

The final standard also removed some highly debated provisions included in the draft proposal as follows:

  • There is no report on findings required, but the auditor is required to follow AU-C 250, AU-C 260 and AU-C 265. Should anything arise that warrants communication to those charged with governance, those findings must be communicated in writing. Be sure to grab another coffee and refresh yourself on AU-C 250, AU-C 260 and AU-C 265!
  • The new required procedures section for an audit was scrapped and replaced with an Appendix A for recommended audit procedures based on risk assessments. There are some great tools there to look at.
  • The required emphasis-of-matter section paragraph section of the auditor’s report was also scrapped.

Questions about the new employee benefit audit standard or employee benefit plan audits

At BerryDunn, we perform over 200 employee benefit plan audits each year. If you have any questions, we would love to help. And we’ll keep the acronyms to a minimum. Please reach out with any questions.

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Read this if you are at a rural health clinic or are considering developing one.

Section 130 of H.R. 133, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (Covid Relief Package) has become law. The law includes the most comprehensive reforms of the Medicare RHC payment methodology since the mid-1990s. Aimed at providing a long-overdue payment increase to capped RHCs (freestanding and provider-based RHCs attached to hospitals greater than 50 beds), the provisions will simultaneously narrow the payment gap between capped and non-capped RHCs.

This will not obtain full “site neutrality” in payment as was a goal of CMS and the Trump administration, but the new provisions will help maintain budget neutrality with savings derived from previously uncapped RHCs funding the increase to capped providers and other Medicare payment mechanisms.

Highlights of the Section 130 provision:

  • The limit paid to freestanding RHCs and those attached to hospitals greater than 50 beds will increase to $100 beginning April 1, 2021 and escalate to $190 by 2028.
  • Any RHC, both freestanding and provider-based, will be deemed “new” if certified after 12/31/19 and subject to the new per-visit cap.
  • The above in effect eliminates uncapped cost-based reimbursement for provider-based RHCs certified subsequent to 12/31/19.
  • Grandfathering would be in place for uncapped provider-based RHCs in existence as of 12/31/19. These providers would receive their current All-Inclusive Rate (AIR) adjusted annually for MEI (Medicare Economic Index) or their actual costs for the year.

If you have any questions about your specific situation, please contact us. We’re here to help.

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Section 130 Rural Health Clinic (RHC) modernization: Highlights

This article is the first in a series to help employee benefit plan fiduciaries better understand their responsibilities and manage the risks of non-compliance with ERISA requirements.

On Labor Day, 1974, President Gerald Ford signed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, commonly known as ERISA, into law. Prior to ERISA, employee pensions had scant protections under the law, a problem made clear when the Studebaker automobile company closed its South Bend, Indiana production plant in 1963. Upon the plant’s closing, some 4,000 employees—whose average age was 52 and average length of service with the company was 23 years—received approximately 15 cents for each dollar of benefit they were owed. Nearly 3,000 additional employees, all of whom had less than 10 years of service with the company, received nothing.

A decade later, ERISA established statutory requirements to preserve and protect the rights of employees to their pensions upon retirement. Among other things, ERISA defines what a plan fiduciary is and sets standards for their conduct.

Who is—and who isn’t—a plan fiduciary?
ERISA defines a fiduciary as a person who:

  1. Exercises discretionary authority or control over the management of an employee benefit plan or the disposition of its assets,
  2. Gives investment advice about plan funds or property for a fee or compensation or has the authority to do so,
  3. Has discretionary authority or responsibility in plan administration, or
  4. Is designated by a named fiduciary to carry out fiduciary responsibility. (ERISA requires the naming of one or more fiduciaries to be responsible for managing the plan's administration, usually a plan administrator or administrative committee, though the plan administrator may engage others to perform some administrative duties).

If you’re still unsure about exactly who is and isn’t a plan fiduciary, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Disagreements over whether or not a person acting in a certain capacity and in a specific situation is a fiduciary have sometimes required legal proceedings to resolve them. Here are some real-world examples.

Employers who maintain employee benefit plans are typically considered fiduciaries by virtue of being named fiduciaries or by acting as a functional fiduciary. Accordingly, employer decisions on how to execute the intent of the plan are subject to ERISA’s fiduciary standards.

Similarly, based on case law, lawyers and consultants who effectually manage an employee benefit plan are also generally considered fiduciaries.

A person or company that performs purely administrative duties within the framework, rules, and procedures established by others is not a fiduciary. Examples of such duties include collecting contributions, maintaining participants' service and employment records, calculating benefits, processing claims, and preparing government reports and employee communications.

What are a fiduciary’s responsibilities?
ERISA requires fiduciaries to discharge their duties solely in the interest of plan participants and beneficiaries, and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits for them and defraying reasonable plan administrative expenses. Specifically, fiduciaries must perform their duties as follows:

  1. With the care, skill, prudence, and diligence of a prudent person under the circumstances;
  2. In accordance with plan documents and instruments, insofar as they are consistent with the provisions of ERISA; and
  3. By diversifying plan investments so as to minimize risk of loss under the circumstances, unless it is clearly prudent not to do so.

A fiduciary is personally liable to the plan for losses resulting from a breach of their fiduciary responsibility, and must restore to the plan any profits realized on misuse of plan assets. Not only is a fiduciary liable for their own breaches, but also if they have knowledge of another fiduciary's breach and either conceals it or does not make reasonable efforts to remedy it.

ERISA provides for a mandatory civil penalty against a fiduciary who breaches a fiduciary responsibility under ERISA or commits a violation, or against any other person who knowingly participates in such breach or violation. That penalty is equal to 20 percent of the "applicable recovery amount" paid pursuant to any settlement agreement with ERISA or ordered by a court to be paid in a judicial proceeding instituted by ERISA.

ERISA also permits a civil action to be brought by a participant, beneficiary, or other fiduciary against a fiduciary for a breach of duty. ERISA allows participants to bring suit to recover losses from fiduciary breaches that impair the value of the plan assets held in their individual accounts, even if the financial solvency of the entire plan is not threatened by the alleged fiduciary breach. Courts may require other appropriate relief, including removal of the fiduciary.

Over the coming months, we’ll share a series of blogs for employee benefit plan fiduciaries, covering everything from common terminology to best practices for plan documentation, suggestions for navigating fiduciary risks, and more.

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What's in a name? A lot, if you manage a benefit plan.

Read this if you are an employer looking for more information on the Employee Retention Credit (ERC).

The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) stimulus package signed into law by President Trump on December 27 makes very favorable enhancements to the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) enacted under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. 

Background

The CARES Act passed in March 2020 provided certain employers with the opportunity to receive a refundable tax credit equal to 50 percent of the qualified wages (including allocable qualified health plan expenses) an eligible employer paid to its employees. This tax credit applied to qualified wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021. The maximum amount of qualified wages (including allocable qualified health plan expenses) taken into account with respect to each eligible employee for all calendar quarters in 2020 is $10,000, so that the maximum credit an eligible employer can receive in 2020 on qualified wages paid to any eligible employee is $5,000.

The ERC was for eligible employers who carried on a trade or business during calendar year 2020, including certain tax-exempt organizations, that either:

  • Fully or partially suspend operation during any calendar quarter in 2020 due to orders from an appropriate governmental authority limiting commerce, travel, or group meetings due to COVID-19; or
  • Experienced a significant decline in gross receipts during the calendar quarter.

If an eligible employer averaged more than 100 full-time employees in 2019, qualified wages were limited to wages paid to an employee for time that the employee was not providing services due to an economic hardship described above. If the eligible employer averaged 100 or fewer full-time employees in 2019, qualified wages are the wages paid to any employee during any period of economic hardship described above.

Updated guidance: ERC changes

The bill makes the following changes to the ERC, which will apply from January 1 to June 30, 2021:

  • The credit rate increases from 50% to 70% of qualified wages and the limit on per-employee wages increases from $10,000 per year to $10,000 per quarter.
  • The gross receipts eligibility threshold for employers changes from a more than 50% decline to a more than 20% decline in gross receipts for the same calendar quarter in 2019. A safe harbor is provided, allowing employers that were not in existence during any quarter in 2019 to use prior quarter gross receipts to determine eligibility and the ERC. 
  • The 100-employee threshold for determining “qualified wages” based on all wages increases to 500 or fewer employees.
  • The credit is available to state or local run colleges, universities, organizations providing medical or hospital care, and certain organizations chartered by Congress (including organizations such as Fannie Mae, FDIC, Federal Home Loan Banks, and Federal Credit Unions). 
  • New, expansive provisions regarding advance payments of the ERC to small employers are included, including special rules for seasonal employers and employers that were not in existence in 2019. The bill also provides reconciliation rules and provides that excess advance payments of the credit during a calendar quarter will be subject to tax that is the amount of the excess.
  • Employers who received PPP loans may still qualify for the ERC with respect to wages that are not paid for with proceeds from a forgiven PPP loan. This change is retroactive to March 12, 2020. Treasury and the SBA will issue guidance providing that payroll costs paid during the PPP covered period can be treated as qualified wages to the extent that such wages were not paid from the proceeds of a forgiven PPP loan.
  • Removal of the limitation that qualified wages paid or incurred by an eligible employer with respect to an employee may not exceed the amount that employee would have been paid for working during the 30 days immediately preceding that period (which, for example, allows employers to take the ERC for bonuses paid to essential workers).

Takeaways

For most employers, the ERC has been difficult to use due to original requirements that prevented employers who received a PPP loan from ERC eligibility and, for those employers who did not receive a PPP loan, the requirement that there be a more than 50% decline in gross receipts. In addition, those employers who qualified for the ERC and had more than 100 employees could only receive the credit for wages paid to employees who did not perform services.

It is important to note that most of the new rules are prospective only and do not change the rules that applied in 2020. The new guidance should make it easier for more employers to utilize the ERC for the first two quarters of 2021. The following types of employers should evaluate the ability to receive the ERC during the first and/or second quarter of 2021:

  • Those that used the ERC in 2020 (the wage limit for the credit is now based on wages paid each quarter and the credit is 70% of eligible wages);
  • Those that previously received a PPP loan;
  • Those that have a more than 20% reduction in gross receipts in 2021 over the same calendar quarter in 2019;
  • Those employers with more than 100 but less than 500 employees who have had a significant reduction in gross receipts (i.e., more than 20%)1

For more information

If you have more questions, or have a specific question about your particular situation, please call us. We’re here to help.

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Stimulus bill extends and expands the Employee Retention Credit

Read this if you are a bank.

Consolidated Appropriations Act
On December 27, 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA) was signed into law. For financial institutions, aside from approving an additional $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program funding, the CAA most notably extended troubled debt restructuring (TDR) relief. Originally provided in Section 4013 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, this relief allows financial institutions to temporarily disregard TDR accounting under US generally accepted accounting principles for certain COVlD-19-related loan modifications. Under the CARES Act, this relief was set to expire on December 31, 2020. The CAA extends such relief to January 1, 2022.

Relief from CECL implementation was also extended from December 31, 2020 to January 1, 2022.

We are here to help
If any questions arise, please contact the financial services team with any questions.

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TDR and CECL relief is extended for financial institutions

Read this if your company is seeking guidance on PPP loans.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (H.R. 133) was signed into law on December 27, 2020. This bill contains guidance on the existing Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and guidelines for the next round of PPP funding.

Updates on existing PPP loans

Income and expense treatment of PPP loans. Forgiven PPP loans will not be included in taxable income and eligible expenses paid with PPP funds will be tax-deductible. This tax treatment applies to both current and future PPP loans.

Tax attributes and basis adjustments. Tax attributes such as net operating losses and passive loss carryovers, and basis increases generated from the result of the PPP loans will not be reduced if the loans are forgiven.

Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). Any previous or future EIDL advance will not reduce PPP loan forgiveness. Any borrowers who already received forgiveness of their PPP loans and had their EIDL subtracted from the forgiveness amount will be able to file an amended forgiveness application to have their PPP forgiveness amount increased by the amount of the EIDL advance. The SBA has 15 days from the effective date of this bill to produce an amended forgiveness application. 

Simplified forgiveness application for loans under $150,000. Borrowers who received PPP loans for $150,000 or less will now be able to file a simplified one-page forgiveness application and will not be required to submit documentation with the application. The SBA has 24 days from the effective date of this bill to make this new forgiveness application available. 

Use of PPP funds. Congress expanded the types of expenses that may be paid with PPP funds. Prior eligible expenses were limited to payroll (including health benefits), rent, covered mortgage interest, and utilities. Additional expenses now include software and cloud computing services to support business operations, the purchase of essential goods from suppliers, and expenditures for complying with government guidance relating to COVID-19.

These additional expenses apply to both existing and new PPP loans, but they do not apply to existing loans if forgiveness has already been obtained.
 
In addition, the definition of "payroll costs" has been expanded to include costs for group life, disability, dental, and vision insurance. These additions also apply to both existing and new loans.

Information for new PPP loans

Application deadline. March 31, 2021 

Eligibility for first-time borrowers. A business that did not previously apply for or receive a PPP loan may apply for a new loan. The same requirements apply from the first round of loans. The business must employ fewer than 500 employees per physical location and the borrower must certify the loan is necessary due to economic uncertainty.

Eligibility for second-time borrowers. Businesses that received a prior PPP loan may apply for a second loan, however the eligibility requirements are a little more stringent. The business must have fewer than 300 employees per physical location (down from 500 previously) and it must have experienced a decline in gross revenue of at least 25% in any quarter in 2020 as compared to the same quarter in 2019. The business must have also expended (or will expend) their initial PPP loan proceeds. 

Maximum loan amount. Lesser of $2 million or 2.5x average monthly payroll for either calendar 2019 or the 12-month period prior to the date of the loan. Businesses operating in the accommodations and food service industry (NAICS code 72) can use a 3.5x average monthly payroll multiple. If the business previously received a loan less than the new amount allowed, or if it returned a portion or all of the previous loan, it can apply for additional funds up to the maximum loan amount. 

New types of businesses eligible for loans.

  • Broadcast news stations, radio stations, and newspapers that will use the proceeds to support the production and distribution of local and emergency information 
  • Certain 501(c)(6) organizations with fewer than 300 employees and that are not significantly involved in lobbying activities 
  • Housing cooperatives with fewer than 300 employees 
  • Companies in bankruptcy if the bankruptcy court approves

Ineligible businesses. A business that was ineligible to receive a PPP loan during the first round is still ineligible to receive a loan in the new round. The new legislation also prohibits the following businesses from receiving a loan in the second round:

  • Publicly traded companies 
  • Businesses owned 20% or more by a Chinese or Hong Kong entity or have a resident of China on its board 
  • Businesses engaged primarily in political or lobbying activities
  • Businesses required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act 
  • Businesses not in operation on February 15, 2020 

Forgiveness qualifications. New PPP loans will be eligible for forgiveness if at least 60% of the proceeds are used on payroll costs. Partial forgiveness will still be available if less than 60% of the funds are used on payroll costs. 

Covered period. The borrower may choose a covered period (i.e., the amount of time in which the PPP funds must be spent) between 8 and 24 weeks from the date of the loan disbursement.

Employee Retention Tax Credit. The CARES Act prohibited a business from claiming the Employee Retention Tax Credit if they received a PPP loan. The new legislation retroactively repeals that prohibition, although it is unclear how an employer can claim retroactive relief. The new bill also expands the tax credit for 2021. 

Additional guidance is expected from the SBA in the coming weeks on many of these items and we will provide updates when the information is released.

We’re here to help.
If you have questions about PPP loans, contact a BerryDunn professional.

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Paycheck Protection Program: Updates on new and existing loans

Read this if you are a community bank.

On December 1, 2020, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) issued its third quarter 2020 Quarterly Banking Profile. The report provides financial information based on call reports filed by 5,033 FDIC-insured commercial banks and savings institutions. The report also contains a section specific to community-bank performance based on the financial information of 4,590 FDIC-insured community banks. Here are some highlights from the community bank section of the report:

  • The community bank sector experienced a $659.7 million increase in quarterly net income from a year prior, despite a 116.6% increase in provision expense and continued net interest margin (NIM) compression. This increase was mainly due to loan sales, which were up 154.2% from 2019. Year-over-year, net income increased 10%.
  • Provision expense decreased 32.3% from second quarter 2020 to $1.6 billion. That said, year-to-date provision expense increased 194.3% compared to 2019 year-to-date.
  • NIM declined 41 basis points from a year prior to a record low of 3.27% (on an annualized basis). 
  • Net operating revenue increased by $2.8 billion from third quarter 2019, a 12.1% increase. This increase was attributable to higher revenue from loan sales and an increase in net interest income mainly due to higher interest income from commercial and industrial (C&I) loans (up 14.8%) and a decrease in interest expense (down 36.8%).
  • Average funding costs declined for the fourth consecutive quarter to 0.53%.
  • Growth in total loans and leases was stagnant from second quarter 2020, growing by only 1%. However, total loans and leases increased by 13.4% from third quarter 2019. This increase was mainly due to C&I lending, which was up 71%. This growth in C&I lending was mainly comprised of Paycheck Protection Program loans originated in the second quarter.
  • The noncurrent rate (loans 90 days or more past due or in nonaccrual status) remained unchanged at 0.80% from second quarter 2020. That being said, noncurrent balances were up $1.6 billion in total from third quarter 2019. This year-over-year increase was mainly attributable to increases in noncurrent nonfarm nonresidential, C&I, and farm loan balances.
  • Net charge-offs decreased 22.1% year-over-year and currently stand at 0.10%.
  • Total deposit growth since second quarter 2020 was modest at 1.8%. However, total deposits compared to third quarter 2019 were up 16.7%.
  • The number of community banks declined by 34 to 4,590 from second quarter 2020. This change included one new community bank, three banks transitioning from non-community to community banks, eight banks transitioning from community to non-community banks, 29 community bank mergers or consolidations, and one community bank self-liquidation.

Community banks have been resilient and weathered the 2020 storm, as evidenced by an increase in year-over-year net income of 10%. However, tightening NIMs will force community banks to find creative ways to increase their NIM, grow their earning asset base, and identify ways to increase non-interest income to maintain current net income levels. 

Much uncertainty still exists. For instance, although significant charge-offs have not yet materialized, the financial picture for many borrowers remains uncertain, and payment deferrals have made some credit quality indicators, such as past due status, less reliable. The ability of community banks to maintain relationships with their borrowers and remain apprised of the results of their borrowers’ operations has never been more important. 

Despite the turbulence caused by the pandemic, there are many positive takeaways, and community banks have proven their resilience. Previous investments in technology, including customer facing solutions and internal communication tools, have saved time and money. As the pandemic forced many banks to move away from paper-centric processes, the resulting efficiencies of digitizing these processes will last long after the pandemic. 

If you have questions about your specific situation, please don’t hesitate to contact BerryDunn’s Financial Services team. We’re here to help.
 

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FDIC issues its third quarter 2020 banking profile

Read this if you are an employee benefit plan fiduciary.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged individuals and organizations to continue operating during a time where face-to-face interaction may not be plausible, and access to organizational resources may be restricted. However, life has not stopped, and participants in your employee benefit plan may continue to make important decisions based on their financial needs. This article looks at distributions from your plan, specifically focusing on required minimum distributions (RMD) and coronavirus-related distributions.

Required minimum distributions

If an employee benefit plan is subject to the RMD rules of Code Section 401(a)(9), then distributions of a participant’s accrued benefits must commence April 1 of the calendar year following the later of 1) the participant attaining age 70½, or 2) the participant’s severance from employment. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020, RMDs have been temporarily waived for retirement plans for 2020. This change applies to direct contribution plans, such as 401(k), 403(b), 457(b) plans, and IRAs. In addition, RMDs were waived for IRA owners who turned 70½ in 2019 and were required to take an RMD by April 1, 2020 and have not yet done so. Note: the waiver will not alter a participant’s required beginning date for purposes of applying the minimum distribution rules in future periods.

Coronavirus-related distributions

Under section 2202 of the CARES Act, qualified participants who are diagnosed with coronavirus, whose spouse or dependent is diagnosed with coronavirus, or who experience adverse financial consequences due to certain virus-related events including quarantine, furlough, layoff, having hours reduced, or losing child care are eligible to receive a coronavirus-related distribution.

These distributions are considered coronavirus-related distributions if the participant or his/her spouse or dependent has experienced adverse effects noted above due to the coronavirus, the distributions do not exceed $100,000 in the aggregate, and the distributions were taken on or after January 1, 2020 and on or before December 30, 2020.  

Such distributions are not subject to the 10% penalty tax under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) § 72(t), and participants have the option of including their distributions in income ratably over a three year period, or the entire amount, starting in the year the distribution was received. Such distributions are exempt from the IRC § 402(f) notice requirement, which explains rollover rules, as well as the effects of rolling a distribution to a qualifying IRA and the effects of not rolling it over. Also, participants can be exempt from owing federal taxes by repaying the coronavirus-related distribution. 

Participants receiving this distribution have a three-year window, starting on the distribution date, to contribute up to the full amount of the distribution to an eligible retirement plan as if the contribution were a timely rollover of an eligible rollover distribution. So, if a participant were to include the distribution amount ratably over the three-year period (2020-2022), and the full amount of the distribution was repaid to an eligible retirement plan in 2022, the participant may file amended federal income tax returns for 2020 and 2021 to claim a refund for taxes paid on the income included from the distributions. The participant will not be required to include any amount in income in 2022. We recommend the plan sponsor maintain documentation supporting the participant was eligible to receive the coronavirus-related distribution. 

There is much uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A result of this uncertainty has been changes to guidance and treatment of plan transactions, which has forced many of our clients to review and alter their control environments. We have provided our current understanding of the guidance the IRS has provided for the treatment surrounding distributions, specifically RMDs and coronavirus-related distributions. If you and your team have any additional questions specific to your organization or plan, please contact us

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Impacts of the CARES Act on employee benefit plan distributions

Read this if you are an employer with more than 10 employees in Maine.

With 2020 quickly coming to an end, employers must be prepared to implement the new Maine Earned Paid Leave Law (EPL), effective January 1, 2021. The EPL law requires employers with more than 10 employees in Maine, for more than 120 days in any calendar year, to permit eligible employees to earn one (1) hour of earned time for every 40 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours per year. 

A notable highlight of Maine’s EPL law, is that leave may be taken for any reason, making it the first law of its kind in the country. EPL may be taken for, but not limited to, an emergency, illness, sudden necessity, and planned vacation. Employees are required to notify employers as soon as practicable if EPL is to be taken for an emergency, illness, or sudden necessity. For any other reason, an employer may require that employees give up to four (4) weeks advance notice.

Covered employees and base rate of pay

The EPL law applies to all full-time, part-time, and per diem employees. Generally, seasonal employees, including summer interns and international workers, are exempt from the EPL rules. A determination of whether a business is seasonal and/or has a seasonal period must be made considering the rules defined by 26 M.R.S.A. § 1043, subsections 9 and 11, and § 1251 before seasonal employees can be excluded.

Employers are required to pay EPL at least at the same “base rate of pay” that an employee received in the week prior to taking leave. The base rate of pay is calculated by dividing total earnings from the week immediately prior by the total hours worked during the same period. Important to note, earnings for this purpose include bonuses, commissions, and other compensation as provided in 26 M.R.S. §664(3). This means that an employer will need to consider overtime and/or other special payments received by the employee during the week prior to the week leave is taken. Employers may need to make adjustments to existing policies and procedures to incorporate the definition of “base rate of pay” for the leave earned under the EPL. If an employer offers more than 40 hours of leave to an employee annually, the first 40 hours of leave available each year must be paid at the employee’s “base rate of pay”.

Additionally, employees must receive the same benefits as those provided under other established employer policies pertaining to other types of paid leave.

Timing & accrual

EPL accrual begins on an employee’s first day of employment. However, an employer may require that new employees wait for a period of up to 120 calendar days during a one-year period before taking EPL. For example, an employee who begins work on November 1st, 2020 would be eligible to use accrued leave after March 1st, 2021, if an employer elected to use the 120-day waiting period. Those employees who have been employed for at least 120 days during a one-year period prior to January 1, 2021, may use their leave as soon as it is earned.

Should an employer allow employees to take EPL before it has been earned, any unearned amount may be withheld from an employee’s final paycheck in the event of separation from employment. Additionally, an employer may elect to provide additional leave above and beyond the 40-hour maximum, at its discretion.

Employees may earn and take up to 40 hours of EPL in any defined year, and can carry over up to 40 hours of accrued and unused EPL from one defined year to the next. For this purpose, a defined year, as stated by the employer, may include, but is not limited to, a calendar year or an employee’s anniversary date. If an employee rolls over 40 hours of unused accrued EPL from one year to the next, the employee will not accrue any additional hours until the following year. If an employee rolls over less than 40 hours, the employee will only accrue hours until the 40-hour maximum is met. For example, if an employee rolls over eight (8) hours of unused accrued EPL from the previous year the employee is only entitled to accrue up to 32 additional hours of EPL in the present year, regardless of how much leave the employee uses in the current year. Employers may require  EPL to be taken in increments of one hour or less. However, an employer may not require EPL to be taken in larger than one-hour increments. 

The EPL law does not address the treatment of any earned paid leave remaining upon an employee’s separation from employment. However, the relevant guidance indicates an employer should honor its written policy or established practice in this area. This means if an employer typically pays out unused vacation/earned benefit/paid time off then unused EPL must be paid out when an employee’s employment ends. If an employer does not compensate an employee for the unused balance of EPL when employment ends, based on its policy and practice, then it will need to make the leave available to the employee if they return to work for that employer within a one-year period.

Exceptions

The EPL law does not apply to an employee covered by a collective bargaining agreement during the period between January 1, 2021 and the expiration of the agreement. Any subsequent agreement would be required to comply with the EPL law.

Compliance

Employers are not required to, but it is recommended that they create a written policy to clearly communicate restrictions and to avoid any misunderstandings. For example, there may be planning opportunities with identifying times of the year, month, or week that leave may be restricted due to operational needs, other than leave for an emergency, illness, or sudden necessity. In doing so, employers must be able to prove undue hardship if they deny the use of EPL for any reason. Considerations for determining undue hardship could include significant expenses, financial resources available, and the size of the workforce, among others. 

A written policy should also help to ensure compliance with the EPL rules. Failure to do so may result in penalties being assessed of up to $1,000 per violation, where each denial of paid leave constitutes a separate violation. For more information, employers may visit the ME DOL's website, which includes a link to its Frequently Asked Questions.

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