ERISA generally requires retirement plan fiduciaries to invest prudently, diversify assets to minimize the risk of large losses, and act solely in the interest of plan participants. These duties have been interpreted as prioritizing the pecuniary interests of plan participants and their beneficiaries. Because investment returns are not to be sacrificed or greater risks assumed to promote collateral social policies, many plan fiduciaries have shied away from environmental, social and governance (ESG) investments.
However, such investments do not need to be avoided if the ERISA fiduciary gives appropriate consideration to the facts and circumstances relevant to a particular investment or course of action, including the role of the investment in the portfolio, and acts accordingly.
In fact, a recent proposal by the U.S. Department of Labor seeks to modify certain prior regulatory guidance that had chilled ESG investments. Appropriate considerations include the risk of loss, opportunity for gain or other return as compared to similar investment alternatives. Diversification, liquidity, projected return are all factors for considering investments in a retirement plan, but investment returns are not to be sacrificed or greater risks assumed to promote collateral social policies. Thus, ESG factors may serve as a “tie breaker” when considering … Keep reading
While there are myriad issues facing employers as we all return to the workplace, here are some of the most frequently asked questions and answers:
What employers are most affected by these recommendations?
The CDC and OSHA guidelines are likely to have the greatest impact on workplaces with an open floor plan and other areas where workers are in close proximity to one another, and workplaces that allow more than one employee to use the same workspace, office equipment, table, desks and other equipment.
What liability does an employer face for COVID-19 in the workplace?
Workplace illnesses and injuries are typically addressed by a state’s workers’ compensation statutory framework, with some exceptions. Generally, for an illness to be compensable under that system, the employee must have contracted it in the course and scope of employment and it must be related to the work performed by that employee.
Because of the pandemic, and the spread of COVID-19, it remains to be seen whether COVID-19 will be considered a workplace illness in workplaces that are not on the front lines (health care, emergency response or other industries where contact with the virus is likely).
There have already been cases filed in … Keep reading
Beginning on October 1, most employers in Massachusetts will be required to withhold tax to fund Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave benefits. There is an exception to this requirement, however, for companies that receive a tax exemption from the state for a private plan providing the same or better benefits. Many employers have already chosen to apply for a tax exemption, after comparing the cost of the tax to the likely cost of implementing a private plan. Some companies are requesting exemptions from part or all of this tax because for them, it is cheaper to pay for the benefits directly or through short and long-term disability plans already in place. Others have chosen to obtain tax exemptions for 2019 and 2020 only, with the intention that they will join the state plan in 2021 and begin withholding taxes then. (Because benefits under the program are not payable until 2021, an employer with a two-year tax exemption reaps an immediate savings while shifting the risk of paying benefits to the state, beginning in 2021.) Still others want a tax exemption because their own program for paid leave is better than what the state generally offers, and they do … Keep reading