The following are updates from the Sept. 16 edition of Benefits Insider, a bimonthly member exclusive publication prepared for WorldatWork members by the American Benefits Council.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued important guidance on certain provisions of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, enacted in 2019, as well as one provision of the Bipartisan American Miners Act (Miners Act).
IRS Notice 2020-68, released on Sept. 8, sets forth questions and answers regarding:
- the small employer automatic enrollment credit,
- repeal of the maximum age for IRA contributions,
- eligibility for long-term part-time employees (500 hours of service for each of three years),
- qualified birth or adoption distributions and re-contributions,
- difficulty of care payments from employers,
- reduction in minimum age for in-service distributions.
Most notably, the notice indicates that 12-month periods beginning before Jan. 1, 2021, are not required to be counted for purposes of determining eligibility to participate in the plan for long-term part-time employees, but such periods must be counted for purposes of determining vesting percentages, specifically asking for comments on the latter.
The notice addresses only specific implementation issues and is not intended to provide comprehensive guidance. As stated in the notice, the IRS and the U.S. Treasury Department will continue to analyze provisions of both acts and anticipate issuing further guidance as appropriate. The agency is soliciting comments on the notice through Nov. 2.
Proposed EBSA Rule on Proxy Voting
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) has released proposed regulations addressing the duty of ERISA fiduciaries as it relates to proxy voting and the exercise of other shareholder rights, echoing themes from the agency’s recent environmental, social and governance (ESG) proposal.
In tandem, these proposals have important implications for plan sponsors making investment decisions in that they advance the position that ERISA’s duties of prudence and exclusive purpose require plan fiduciaries to act solely for the economic benefit of plan participants and beneficiaries when managing plan assets.
The proposed proxy voting rule amends ERISA’s standing investment duties regulation in part by stating that a fiduciary must not “subordinate the interests of the participants and beneficiaries in their retirement income or financial benefits under the plan to any non-pecuniary objective, or sacrifice investment return or take on additional investment risk to promote goals unrelated to those financial interests of the plan’s participants and beneficiaries or the purposes of the plan.”
This language parallels EBSA’s ESG proposal, published on June 30, which (as stated in the preamble) directs plan fiduciaries to “select investments and investment courses of action based solely on financial considerations relevant to the risk-adjusted economic value of a particular investment” and not on ESG considerations unless they are pecuniary in nature (see EBSA’s official fact sheet).
In July, with 31 written comments on the ESG proposal, the Council recommended a number of changes to the proposal that address its breadth and would provide a clearer path forward for ESG investments while expressing strong support for “the importance of plan fiduciaries acting in accordance with ERISA’s prudent and loyalty responsibilities when making investment decisions.”
EBSA is soliciting comments on the proxy voting proposal through Oct. 4.