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60th Annual Employee Benefits Conference (#IFEBP14) — Roundup

 

Beautiful Boston

Beautiful Boston

 

This past week, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) held its 60th Annual Conference in Boston, Massachusetts.  The Annual Conference brings together roughly 5,000 persons involved in the administration and service of “employee benefit plans.”  That term, of course, covers a lot of ground, e.g., single-employer to multi-employer plans; private to public sector plans; and pension to health-and-welfare plans.  Persons attending the Annual Conference include fund trustees, administrators, business managers, fund attorneys, fund accountants, fund actuaries, and investment managers and consultants, among others.  Conference courses and panels cover a wide range of topics, from the practical impact of the new Affordable Care Act (“ACA” or “Obamacare”) to pharmacy benefit management to guarding against fraud, waste and abuse in a fund’s health plans to crucial updates on labor and employment law and the areas of highest concern to the Department of Labor.

Below, I’ll share a few of the interesting factoids and tidbits that piqued my interest in various conference-classes.

  • DOL Audit Letters.  The DOL sometimes audits employee benefit funds, initiating the process through an Opening Letter, which includes a request for documents (or a subpoena).  Pay close attention to the “Program Number” that appears on the face of this letter.  For instance, a “48” or “52” audit carries a far different implication than a “53” audit, and should provoke a different level of concern.
  • DOL Nat’l Enforcement Priorities.  The DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (“EBSA”) focuses its efforts on areas having the greatest impact on the protection of plan assets and participant benefits.  “Beginning in FY 2013, EBSA is strategically focusing more investigative resources on professional fiduciaries and service providers with responsibility for large amounts of plan assets and the administration of large amounts of plan benefits.”
  • Avoiding Fraud By Effective Segregation of Duties.1AICPA’s auditing standards define segregation-of-duties as “[a]ssigning different people the responsibilities of authorizing transactions, recording transactions and maintaining custody of assets [which] is intended to reduce the opportunities to allow any person to be in a position to both perpetrate and conceal errors or fraud in the normal course of his or her duties.”  There are strong reasons to avoid having one person initiate a transaction, approve that transaction, record that transaction, reconcile balances, handle assets and review reports.
  • Defined Contribution Plans Becoming More Prevalent.2A defined contribution plan is “[a] retirement plan in which a certain amount or percentage of money is set aside each year by a company for the benefit of the employee.”  The amount contributed is fixed, but the benefit is not.  Investopedia A recent survey finds that there are 2,741 multiemployer pension plans, of which 1,442 are defined benefit plans and 1,299 are defined contribution plans.  The majority of multiemployer plan participants (11,041,000 to 4,457,000) and assets $637 billion to $172 billion) remain in defined benefit plans.  DOL, ESBA, Private Pension Plan Bulletin, Abstract of 2011 Form 5500 Annual Reports, June 2013.
  • Marijuana and the Workplace.  Twenty-three states, and the District of Columbia, have passed legislation allowing the use of pot for medical purposes.  Unsurprisingly, this raises a host of new questions, such as whether an employee can be disciplined for using pot outside of work hours, in a state where such use is legal, and whether an employer must provide a reasonable-accommodation to an employee who are legal users of medical marijuana.
  • Sick Leave.  There is a growing trend of localities passing laws requiring paid sick leave, e.g., San Diago; New York City; Seattle; and San Francisco.  Massachusetts has a similar referendum on the November ballot this year.

This is just the tip of the iceberg; the Annual Conference is an invaluable educational tool for those who work with benefit plans.  And Boston hosting the conference gave me easy access to Finale, the spot for amazing late-night desserts on Columbus Avenue.  See the picture of their dessert-case below.  Yes, I basically ate my way through every Boston restaurant last week.  Yes, I’m heading to the gym now.  No, I did not bankrupt the “All You Can Eat” Seafood place.

Finale Dessert Case

 

 

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