IRS Issues Tax and Reporting Relief for Proposed Fiduciary Standard Consistent with Department of Labor Regulations

By Monte Schatz

There have been a significant series of regulatory announcements and rulings related to the fiduciary duty and its application to employee benefit plans.  The final fiduciary duty rule became effective on June 7, 2016, and has an applicability date of April 10, 2017. The President by Memorandum to the Secretary of Labor directed the Labor Department to examine the impact of the fiduciary duty rule.  On March 2nd the DOL published 82 FR 12319 seeking public comments about questions raised in the Presidential Memorandum.  The March 2nd notice also provided that a 60-day delay in implementation would be effective on the date of publication of a final rule

The Principal Transactions Exemptions and the accompanying Best Interest Contract provisions, included as part of the fiduciary duty rule, also have an applicability date of April 10, 2017, with a phased implementation period ending on January 1, 2018. The BIC Exemption effectively states that the fiduciary advisor must sign a “Best Interests Contract” (BIC) with the client, stipulating that the advisor will provide advice that is in the Best Interests of the client.   The Principal Transactions Exemption allows compensation for certain transactions by certain broker-dealers, insurance agents, and others that will act as investment advice fiduciaries that would otherwise violate prohibited transaction rules that trigger excise taxes and civil liability.

Most investment industry groups’ concerns regarding any non-compliance during a “gap period” of the financial fiduciary rule focused on Department of Labor and its potential civil liability enforcement provisions as outlined under ERISA.  Additional concerns were raised concerning Internal Revenue Service enforcement provisions found in Internal Revenue Code §4975 prohibited transaction rules that provides for the imposition of excise taxes for violations of that rule.

As a result of delays of the Fiduciary Standard rules, the Department of Labor published Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) 2017-01.  FAB 2017-01 provides that, to the extent circumstances surrounding its decision on the proposed delay of the April 10 applicability date give rise to the need for other temporary relief, including retroactive prohibited transaction relief, the DOL will consider taking such additional steps as necessary with respect to the arrangements and transactions covered by the DOL temporary enforcement policy and any subsequent related DOL enforcement guidance.

In Announcement 2017–4 the IRS stated, Because the Code and ERISA contemplate consistency in the enforcement of the prohibited transaction rules by the IRS and the DOL, the Treasury Department and the IRS have determined that it is appropriate to adopt a temporary excise tax non-applicability policy that conforms with the DOL’s temporary enforcement policy described in FAB 2017-01. Accordingly, the IRS will not apply § 4975 and related reporting obligations with respect to any transaction or agreement to which the DOL’s temporary enforcement policy, or other subsequent related enforcement guidance, would apply.

SOURCES:

http://www.asppa.org/News/Article/ArticleID/8480

https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/a-17-04.pdf

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New Minimum Wage Law in Iowa

Iowa enacted a new law, Iowa House File 295, that prohibits counties and cities from regulating certain employment matters that are regulated by the state. On a practical level, for employers, this will reduce some compliance burdens, including eliminating different minimum wage rates across the state. The law, which took effect on March 30, 2017, preempts city and county rules pertaining to minimum wage, employment leave, hiring practices, employee benefits, and similar matters that pertain to terms of employment. For example, Johnson County, Iowa, had a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, but that has preempted with the new state law, which means the minimum wage in Johnson County is now $7.25 an hour. Now, regardless of the action taken by county or city government, including actions taken prior to the new Iowa law, the state law will preempt and govern practices by employers.

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Employers in Nebraska and Iowa Should be Aware of Changes in Pay Discrimination Lawsuits

A recent court case, stemming from an Iowa employer, may have a significant impact on how employers throughout Nebraska and Iowa view pay differential between employees. On April 3, 2017, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Dindinger v. Allsteel, Inc., a case pertaining to gender based pay discrimination. In the ruling, the Court suggested that market forces and economic conditions, often used as an affirmative defense in pay discrimination claims, may not be sufficient as a defense without a clear connection. The result is that an employer may not be able to assert that economic conditions are the reason for pay differential between men and women without being able to show how the economic conditions caused the pay differential for the specific employees in question.

 

This case stems from an Iowa furniture manufacturer, where three female employees claimed gender based pay discrimination. As an affirmative defense, the business argued that market forces and economic conditions were the reason for the pay differential, not gender discrimination. This affirmative defense is often raised by employers and, generally, does not require a specific correlation between the economic condition and the employee. However, the Court in this case noted that to successfully argue the “factor other than sex” defense, the business must show how economic conditions directly resulted in the pay differential. For employers in the Court’s jurisdiction, including those in Nebraska and Iowa, an increased burden may exist when asserting the market forces affirmative defense and could necessitate taking action before any potential pay discrimination claims arise.

 

Employers should recognize the added challenge of defending pay discrimination lawsuits and, potentially, take preemptive action by auditing current pay and employment practices. A copy of the opinion can be found at the following link:  http://media.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/17/04/161305P.pdf

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Broker-Dealers Offered Opportunity to Provide Comments to FINRA Rules for Capital Formation

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, known as FINRA, is undergoing a review of internal operations and programs as part of a review process dubbed FINRA 360. FINRA, as an independent self-regulatory organization with the overall goal of protecting investors and creating efficiency in the markets, governs many in the financial services industry in conjunction with the securities and exchange commission. FINRA has been issuing notices and seeking comments from those in the industry, as part of FINRA 360, with the goal of identifying opportunities to further the FINRA mission.

Recently, FINRA started the review process for rules that pertain to broker-dealers and their involvement with the capital formation process, and has issued corresponding notices. One of the recent notices from FINRA includes regulatory notice 17-14, seeking comments regarding broker-dealers when involved with unregistered securities and operating funding portals. The broad spectrum of rules that fall within the purview of notice 17-14 include funding portals, crowdfunding, capital acquisition brokers, unlisted real estate investment trusts, and other administrative and operational rules for raising capital.

For those wishing to submit comments on the rules, FINRA has set a deadline of May 30, 2017. For more information, FINRA notice 17-14 can be found at the following link: http://www.finra.org/sites/default/files/notice_doc_file_ref/Regulatory-Notice-17-14.pdf

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Selecting the Right Entity for Your Tech Startup

Nebraska, and neighboring Midwest states, have developed a reputation as the “Silicon Prairie,” a prime location for technology startups. The recent tech startup boom in the Midwest can be attributed to the lower cost of living, knowledgeable tech labor force, and willingness of the community to embrace the startup. For many of these startups, besides the intense need to develop and protect the technology, a common issue is picking the right business entity structure.

 

In picking the right entity for the startup, several considerations should be weighed, including the need for liability protection, how the company will fund operations, and the most beneficial tax status. For example, if a tech startup is developing a product that will take a substantial period to produce, and likely need multiple rounds of equity financing involving institutional investors, with other funding coming through debt, the demand for classes of shares, preferences, and conversion rights, may require that the startup to form as a C-corporation, with corresponding tax status. On the other hand, if the startup only intends to have one round of equity financing, through a “friends and family” offering, a limited liability company may be appropriate, providing additional flexibility to select tax status.

 

Picking the right type of entity is important for the success of a tech startup, with many considerations to weigh. Ultimately, as facts change, it may be possible to change the structure of your company, but initial selection should not be taken lightly and can reduce problems as your company grows.

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Increasing Risk of Wire Fraud in Real Estate Transactions

On a national level, and with growing prevalence in Omaha, Nebraska, real estate professionals are reporting increased instances of wire fraud scams in real estate transactions. The scams are hitting both residential and commercial real estate transactions, but are becoming especially pernicious in commercial real estate, resulting in millions of dollars wired to the wrong account.

 

The scams, generally, result from an email account or a real estate broker database being hacked, where the scammer learns about the transaction, and then sends last minute fraudulent wire transfer instructions that look real because of the details. Often, the fraudulent instructions will include a middle-man, such as a real estate professional, attorney, or title company receiving the wire instructions and forwarding those instructions to the financial institution. By using the intervening party, the fraudulent instructions look genuine to the financial institution.

 

For all individuals and entities involved in real estate transactions, the safest approach is using secure email services, especially when sending wire instructions. However, if secure email services are not used, warning signs include last minute changes to the wire instruction, erroneous email addresses, or a change to an overseas financial institution. If any of these red flags arise, the wire instructions should be verified with the originating party.

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Companies Accidentally Waiving Attorney-Client Privilege

In the digital age, most companies rely heavily on email to communicate, even with their attorney. Generally, attorney-client privilege will apply to these emails, but when the client forwards the email, questions about privilege can arise. As several cases in 2016 highlight, many employees will forward an attorney’s email without significant thought, but prior to forwarding the email, care should be taken to avoid inadvertently waiving privilege.

 

As highlighted by AU New Haven, LLC v. YKK Corp., No. 1:15­CV­3411­GHW, (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 28, 2016), when a company employee forwards an attorney communication to non-attorney employees, several rules will apply. As a default, generally, if the email is forwarded to employees of the company, the privilege will be retained. Similarly, if everyone receiving the email is deemed to have a common interest, even if not a direct employee, privilege is often retained. However, if one person doesn’t share the common interest, privilege is broken.  An example of broken privilege, in Newman v. Highland School District No. 203, 381 P.3d 1188 (Wash. 2016), the court refused to uphold privilege because the employee was no longer employed by the company. Thus, the court determined that privilege did not apply because the employee that received the communication was now a former employee.

 

Overall, these two cases highlight the fact specific nature of whether privilege is retained when an employee of a company forwards an email from the company’s attorney. Moreover, the determination of whether privilege was retained will be specific to the state. Thus, employees of a company receiving privileged communication should take steps to retain privilege, including having internal policies about forwarding emails from the company attorney.

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