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Benefits & Compensation

Not surprisingly, summer internships look a bit different this year. Some are cancelled outright, others cut short, and many are virtual. Amidst these changes, we know employers have more than a few questions . . .

Q. If my company is cancelling its planned summer internship, do we have to provide any cash compensation?

A. Not unless there is a contract in place to do so. Nonetheless, we’ve seen a number companies offer to pay a portion of the expected wages (and a few very generous employers have sought to pay the entire amount).

Q. And, if we want to pay our intern some amount for the lost opportunity, do we have to put them on the payroll?

A. Yes. The IRS takes the position that, from a tax perspective, paying any amount, in lieu of wages to a prospective employee who is never actually employed is nonetheless wage income subject to income tax withholding, social taxes, etc. Some employers are a little stumped by how they can set somebody up on the payroll just to make this one lonesome payment. But, it is doable. It requires some administrative tasks like getting the required federal and state withholding forms and setting the person up in the employer’s payroll system. For federal purposes, the required form is the Form W-4 that an employee fills out during onboarding for a new job, which form will require the employee to provide a social security number (or other taxpayer identification number) and other information needed for the payment to be properly reported on Form W-2 and withheld upon.


Continue Reading FAQs About Summer Internships During the Pandemic

The Department of Labor (DOL) issued final regulations establishing new safe harbors for the electronic delivery of required retirement plan disclosures under ERISA. As background, retirement plan administrators must deliver required disclosures using methods that are reasonably calculated to ensure actual receipt of documents by plan participants.

Under prior guidance from 2002, the DOL created

Due to the pandemic, employees in the US are working from home in unprecedented numbers. Some, particularly in tech, may be working from home through the end of the year, or even permanently! While working from home raises a myriad of issues (e.g., data privacy and security, health and safety, employee engagement, and more), this post focuses on expense reimbursements related to telecommuting. The trickiest areas are cell phones and internet given that employees are now working from home because they cannot go into the office, as opposed to perhaps at their convenience.

Reimbursement Obligations

There is no federal requirement to reimburse employees for business-related expenses. However, several states (including California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana and New York) have legislation requiring reimbursement for necessary businesses expenses. For example, California Labor Code Section 2802(a) requires an employer to “indemnify his or her employee for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties, or of his or her obedience to the directions of the employer….” Failing to reimburse employees can lead to class or collective actions and quickly become incredibly burdensome for employers. Under California law, an employer that does not reimburse employees risks a lawsuit where the damages will include not just the unreimbursed expenses but the attorney’s fees incurred by the employee seeking reimbursement. The employee can also ask the Labor Commissioner to cite the employer or anyone acting on the employer’s behalf under Labor Code Section 2802(d). Where the practice is widespread (or just alleged to be) the claims can be brought on a class-wide basis.


Continue Reading Reimbursement Refresher: Cell Phone and Internet Expenses Related to Telecommuting in the US

With many thanks to Chris Guldberg for this post. 

On May 12, 2020, the IRS released Notice 2020-29 (the “Notice”) providing greater flexibility to make mid-year election changes under Code Section 125 cafeteria plans during 2020 with respect to employer-provided health coverage and health and dependent care flexible spending accounts (“FSAs”). The notice also provides additional time in which unused amounts in FSAs can be used to pay expenses and avoid forfeiture.

Mid-year Election Changes

As background, cafeteria plans are the vehicle that allow employees to elect to pay their share of benefit premium costs for certain welfare benefits (for example, the employee premium portion paid for medical coverage) on a pre-tax basis rather than paying for those costs on an after-tax basis. In general, employee cafeteria plan elections must be made prior to the first day of the plan year and cannot be changed during the plan year except for specific change in status type events permitted under the relevant regulations (for example, the birth of a child).


Continue Reading Increased Flexibility for Taxpayers in Section 125 Cafeteria Plans in Response to COVID-19

With many thanks to Chris Guldberg for this post. 

Employers considering COVID-19-related layoffs and RIFs right now should add one more item to their checklist of considerations: the possibility of inadvertently triggering a “partial termination” of their tax-qualified retirement plan.

Where plan participant numbers decrease substantially, the plan may incur what’s known as a “partial termination.” This is significant because, once triggered, the IRS requires the benefits of all “affected employees” be fully vested. Failure to provide such vesting could put the plan’s tax-qualified status at risk.


Continue Reading Beware — COVID-19 Layoffs May Trigger Liability for Partial Plan Terminations

Welcome to Baker McKenzie’s Labor and Employment video chat series! In these quick and bite-sized video chats, our employment partners team up with practitioners in various areas of law to discuss the most pressing issues for employers navigating the return to work.

This series builds on our recent client alert and webinar on reopening for

With our thanks to Chris Guldberg for this post. 

The financial fallout from the outbreak of COVID-19 has unfortunately forced employers to turn to layoffs and furloughs. Many employers facing these decisions are looking for cost effective ways to mitigate the financial impact on affected employees. A supplemental unemployment benefit plan (“SUB Plan”) may be one way to assist employees while generating some cost savings for the company.

A SUB Plan is a unique type of severance benefit plan that permits employers to supplement state unemployment benefits on an employment tax-favored basis. The employer can make up the difference between an employee’s normal wages and state unemployment benefits and, unlike traditional severance, payments under a SUB Plan are treated as a benefit rather than wages and are thus not subject to FICA or FUTA for the employer or employee.


Continue Reading An Alternative to Traditional Severance: SUB Plans

On March 31, SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin announced that the SBA and Treasury Department have initiated a “robust” mobilization effort of banks and other lending institutions to provide small businesses with $349 billion in much-needed capital pursuant to the Paycheck Protection Program, established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and

On Friday, March 20, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), US Department of Labor (DOL), and US Department of the Treasury published a joint news release (Release) regarding tax credits available to employers who will be required to provide paid sick and family care leave for COVID-19-related purposes under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

The Ninth Circuit just reiterated one of the late U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt’s last opinions after the U.S. Supreme Court wiped it out last February. (Decision here.) In February 2019, the Supreme Court vacated and remanded Rizo v. Yovino, which held that employers cannot justify a wage differential between men and women