Employee Benefits

Escalating costs, increased governmental regulation and the current economic climate have all influenced the approach businesses need to take to employee benefit issues. Butzel Long emphasizes hands-on client service, particularly during challenging times, often serving as an extension of a company's human resources and tax planning departments, providing comprehensive legal counsel and business advice, along with the cross-disciplinary resources to handle any issues that may arise. We advise both for-profit and non-profit entities ranging from professional corporations with one or two employees to employers with several thousand employees at locations across the country or the world. Our attorneys also advise governmental entities on benefit issues, including issues relating to VEBAs, 403(b) plans, 457(b) plans, and 457(f) plans. The Employee Benefits Group works closely with actuaries, accountants, other benefits consultants and members in the firm's other practice areas in the design and implementation of benefits programs. Our attorneys also regularly represent clients before the Internal Revenue Service, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation and the Department of Labor.

Our group has the bench strength to handle a tremendous volume and variety of work. Our attorneys provide ongoing legal services on a range of issues, including the design, drafting, preparation and termination of qualified retirement plans, counsel in connection with employee welfare and cafeteria plans, benefits, as well as advisory services to businesses that can be critical in corporate transactions such as sales, restructurings, plant closures, mergers, acquisitions, financing arrangements, liquidations and other business transactions. We represent employers with pension and health and welfare plan issues including benefit issues in private and public sector union negotiations. We also represent employers who contribute to multiemployer plans and provide advice regarding audit defense, withdrawal liability strategy, and approaches to plans in endangered or critical funding status.

We provide on-going advice to clients on the tax, compliance and strategic implications of executive compensation arrangements. We regularly advise clients regarding the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Employee Benefits Group also advises clients with regard to interpretation and compliance with the benefits aspects of, and the interstices between ERISA and other laws affecting employees, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, Americans With Disabilities Act, Age Discrimination In Employment Act, Title VII, HIPAA, GINA, the Internal Revenue Code and other federal and state benefits-related statutes.

Our group also has highly experienced ERISA and employee benefits litigators. In addition to representing plan sponsors, fiduciaries and plan professionals during Department of Labor investigations, our litigators fashion pre-litigation strategies with an eye towards reducing litigation risk and minimizing costs in high-stakes litigation. Our litigators have handled individual and class action litigation across the country involving ERISA, and, where ERISA is inapplicable, state law:

  • retiree health care benefit termination
  • severance plan benefit denials
  • medical disability benefit denials
  • pension miscalculation claims
  • anti-cutback rule violations
  • discriminatory plan design
  • cash balance plans and other hybrid plans
  • fiduciary and co-fiduciary breaches
  • executive compensation (including SERPs)
  • interference with rights under ERISA and ERISA-governed plans
  • excessive fees
  • prohibited transactions
  • non-compliance with ERISA disclosure requirements
  • multiemployer plan trustee disputes
  • multiemployer plan delinquent contribution and withdrawal liability disputes
  • public sector plan trustee misconduct under state law
  • ERISA and employee benefits appellate litigation

Our experienced ERISA and employee benefits litigators have also served as amicus counsel to national trade associations in the federal circuits and in the US Supreme Court and have been selected by insurers to defend benefits litigation.

Members of our group have published widely and teach Employee Benefits and ERISA Litigation at various law schools in Michigan, Alabama and Chicago and are frequent lecturers to state and national employee benefits organizations and in webinars. One member of the group is the author of two law school casebooks on executive compensation: Executive Compensation (2016) and Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation (2011).

Four of our attorneys in this group are Fellows of the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, and one is also a Fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers, honors conferred only upon those who, in the judgment of other Fellows and the Board of Governors of each College, have distinguished themselves as outstanding professionals for more than 20 years of practice. Several are listed in The Best Lawyers in America and in Chambers USA and are Super Lawyers in their respective fields.

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  • Designed health risk assessment program that complies with ERISA, HIPAA, ADA, and GINA , integrated with employers wellness programs and incentives and determined if eligibility to participate in health plan could be contingent on completing HRA
  • Assist qualified defined contribution plan adminstrator in engaging independent fiduciary to manage company stock fund offered as investment option in 401(k) plan enhance protection provided to participants by engaging fiduciary independent of employer
  • Prepared plan documents and coordinated compliance efforts in connection with merger of four defined benefit pension plans into employer’s consolidated national pension plan
  • Review a wide variety of nonqualified deferred compensation plans, severance plans and individual employment and other agreements to determine compliance with Code Section 409A before December 31, 2008 document compliance deadline
  • Section 403 (b) Plans
  • Retiree Health Benefits Restructured for major insurance company
  • Consulted specialty physician group regarding coordination of supplemental retirement benefits and buy-out benefits
  • Provided strategic advice and analysis for publicly traded Fortune 500 company on approach to managing multiemployer pension funds in endangered or critical status and withdrawal liability risks for more than 100 multiemployer pension funds
  • Negotiated with the IRS to allow retroactive amendment to pension plan eligibility language for large manufacturing company to exclude large group of employees not intended to benefit, preventing multi-million dollar liability
  • Assisted large manufacturing company in responding to Pension Protection Act funding limitations on plan distributions and benefit accruals, including union implications
  • Negotiated investment manager contracts for pension plan assets
  • Defined Benefit Pension Plans
  • Advised manufacturing clients on ability to modify or terminate retiree health care benefits for union and non-union employees
  • EPCRS Correction Issues -- Identified and Corrected
  • Tax-Qualified Retirement Plans
  • Analyze potential financial impact on named executive officers by capping change in control severance benefits not subject to excise tax to enable client an executive perquisite without causing adverse financial consequenses to affected officers
  • Provided strategic advice and analysis for publicly traded Fortune 500 company on approach to managing multiemployer pension funds in endangered or critical status and withdrawal liability risks for more than 100 multiemployer pension funds
  • Advised tier one automotive supplier with documents and legal implications of merging multiple nonqualified deferred compensation plans with rabbi trusts into single national plan with single rabbi trust
  • Advised large manufacturing clients regarding Code Section 409A compliance for executive supplemental deferred compensation plans, deferred compensation plans and in-kind benefit programs
  • Defined Benefit Pension Plans
  • Assisted tier one automotive supplier in analyzing defined benefit plan funding restrictions and correction of misapplication of benefit distribution and benefit accrual limitations
  • Represented health plans in coordination-of-benefits lawsuits involving automobile no-fault insurance carriers
  • Assist clients in assessing potential legal risks of conditioning eligibility to participate in group health plan on completion of a health risk assessment, where all results are confidential and not collected by or provided to the employer
  • Prepared numerous filings and applications to present to the Internal Revenue Service on behalf of clients to facilitate the determination that the clients’ employee pension benefit plans remained tax-qualified.
  • Negotiated complex administrative service and outsourcing agreement for group of large related 401(k) plans
  • Assisted tier one automotive supplier with merging single employer union pension plan into multiemployer national pension fund; negotiated merger agreement and liability and asset transfer terms; provided technical compliance guidance
  • Prepared incentive compensation plan for foreign subsidiaries of public energy and defense firm.
  • Assist clients with interpreting and implementing federal government subsidy of COBRA continuation coverage enacted in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
  • Assisted tier one automotive supplier in structuring plant closing benefits for union employees; analyzed legal issues on providing pension accruals post-plant closing and advice on benefit funding, vesting and reporting and disclosure obligations
  • Prepared HIPAA Privacy and Security policies and procedures for client group health plans, including administrative forms, business associate agreements and plans sponsor certifications; updated documents and procedures to comply with HITECH
  • Retiree Medical
  • Employee Benefits in Acquisitions
  • Represented employer (employing more than 10,000 individuals) in negotiations with long term disability carrier and life insurance carrier regarding terms and conditions of new insurance contracts
  • IRS audit re auction house's 401(k) plan contributions
  • Designed nonqualified Section 457(f) deferred compensation programs for executive officers of Credit Union and advised regarding insurance funding options
  • Established fiduciary compliance program for qualified retirement plans with 9,000 participants/$600 million in assets; drafted documents on committee members, authority, responsibility and rules and policies for paying expenses from plan assets
  • Prepared RFP for investment consultant search for 9 qualified retirement plans sponsored by major tier one auto supplier with over $600 million in assets; participated in interview and selection process and negotiated investment consultant contract
  • Restructured 16 retiree health care programs for major manufacturing company into five consolidated programs with reduced benefits and assisted with retiree communication and acceptance program
  • Prepared Investment Policy Statement for 401(k) plan for tier one automotive supplier
  • RFP Preparation
  • Defined Benefit Pension Plans
  • Amended and restated 14 defined benefit pension plans of major tier one automotive supplier and filed them with the IRS.
  • Advised manufacturing client on fiduciary duty implications and best practices of allocating expenses among multiple qualified retirement plans
  • Provided employee benefits due diligence expertise and reviewed warranties and representations in connection with a private equity investor’s purchase of a major OEM's glass manufacturing operations in North America
  • Advised clients on strategies for addressing Code Section 409A specified employee status for international employees
  • Assist client in establishing Benefits Committee where employer delegates fiduciary responsibility to administer employee benefit plans subject to ERISA improve compliance with ERISA fiduciary duty requirement and administration of employee benefit plans
  • Welfare Plans
  • Assisted with termination, assignment and transition of employee benefits programs in stock sale of information technology-based subsidiary of public company, including assigning certain plans to parent and transitioning other programs to buyer.
  • Successfully obtained IRS approval and Compliance Statement under the Employee Plan Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS) to retroactively correct 23 operational and plan document errors for major tier one automotive supplier's pension plan
  • Negotiated and prepared documents in asset purchase by consumer packaged goods company for transition of health benefits; analyzed avoidance of multiemployer withdrawal liability and new retirement programs for union and non-union employees
  • Prepared timelines and provided compliance guidance and required documents for merger of several retirement plans, to achieve cost savings
  • Health and Welfare Plan restructured for major insurance company
  • Advised on large multistate welfare plan’s contracts for administering and/or insuring medical, prescription drug, life, long-term disability, short-term disability, flexible spending accounts, and employee assistance program
  • Handled all legal planning and compliance work to spin-off $60 million portion of 401(k) plan to separate 401(k) plan
  • Section 401 (k) Plans
  • Analysis of affilliated service group rules under Internal Revenue Code
  • Drafted numerous 403(b) tax-deferred annuity plans
  • Advised publicly traded auction house on addition of restricted stock units to existing equity compensation plan to minimize accelerated FICA tax implications for retirement age participants
  • Assisted clients with correction methods for failing to properly withhold FICA taxes for nonqualified deferred compensation programs