The Department of Labor (DOL) recently published a final rule that extends the DOL-established state safe harbor (described in an earlier final rule published on August 30, 20161), for establishing payroll-deduction savings programs for private sector employees to “qualified political subdivisions” (e.g., large cities and counties).2 Compliance with the safe harbor allows programs enacted by states and eligible political subdivisions to be exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The new final rule is effective January 19, 2017.
Under the new final rule, the safe harbor applies to programs that require private sector employers without a workplace retirement savings mechanism to automatically deduct amounts from employees’ wages for deposit into programs administered by political subdivisions, in addition to states, that establish individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Employees must be allowed to opt out of the program and employer contributions are prohibited.
The final rule defines a qualified political subdivision as any state governmental unit (city, county or similar units) that meets the safe harbor criteria established for states in the August 30, 2016 final rule, as well as additional criteria in the new final rule. The DOL estimates only 51 political subdivisions are eligible for the safe harbor, including three (Seattle, Philadelphia and New York City) that have expressed interest in it.
Under the final rule, the political subdivision must meet the following criteria:
Compliance with the tests in the last three of the four criteria is determined on the date the subdivision’s program is enacted.
The new final rule maintains the safe harbor requirement that states and qualified political subdivisions are responsible for the programs they implement and administer. The final rule strengthens required security of payroll deductions by clarifying that states and political subdivisions must require and enforce prompt employer remittance of wage withholdings. Deductions are deemed “prompt” under the final rule if remitted when reasonably segregated from employers’ general assets but no later than last day of the month following month amount would be payable to employees.
The states and political subdivisions are also responsible for investing employee savings or selecting investment alternatives. However, states and political subdivisions can delegate administrative functions to investment or service providers. Employees must be notified by the state or political subdivision of their rights under the program and how to enforce them.
Employers’ roles in a state or qualified political subdivision program under the final rule remain limited to nondiscretionary operational functions, including implementing payroll deductions with prompt transmission to state or political subdivision programs, maintaining accurate records, providing program notice and information to employees and complying with information requests from a state or political subdivision necessary for program operation.
Implementing and administering a retirement savings program for private sector employees in a large city or county is a complex process. For such an important undertaking, expert assistance is critical. Segal Consulting has experience establishing such a program and can assist potential program sponsors by:
Political subdivisions should rely on their legal counsel’s advice on whether the program will comply with applicable federal laws and regulations, including the ERISA exemption safe harbor.
For more information about how these new rules may affect your jurisdiction, please contact your Segal consultant or the Segal office nearest you.
1 For a summary of that guidance, see Segal Consulting’s November 7, 2016 Update, “Federal Rule Helps States Move Forward on Retirement Savings Programs for Private Sector Employees.”
2 The final rule was published in the December 20, 2016 Federal Register.
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NEW! On April 13, 2017, President Trump signed House Joint Resolution 67, which nullified this DOL rule. See our hot topic.