New Overtime Pay Rules

On September 24, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a final rule to make 1.3 million American workers newly eligible for overtime pay. The new rule is effective January 1, 2020 and includes the following changes to overtime rules:

  • Raise the salary level from the current $455 per week to $684 per week (or $35,568 per year for a full-year worker);
  • Raise the total annual compensation level for highly compensated employees from the current $100,000 per year to $107,432 per year (with a minimum weekly salary of at least $684);
  • Allow employers to use nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) that are paid at least annually to satisfy up to 10 percent of the salary level; and
  • Revise the special salary levels for workers in US territories and in the motion picture industry.

Of note, this final rule did not change the “duties test” for any exemption.

This message is a brief summary of a complex series of laws, rules and regulations. Please contact Edward Castellani at 517-377-0845 or, or David Houston at 517-377-0855 or with any questions.

The “New” IRS Independent Contractor Test – The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same


Proper characterization of workers as independent contractors or employees is a question that crosses many areas of substantive state and federal law, prominently federal tax law.

IRS Publication 15-A, Employer’s Supplemental Tax Guide (2020) (Dec 23, 2019), (“Pub. 15-A”) announces relevant new or changed standards to be used by the Internal Revenue Service in making these determinations for tax year 2020. Pub. 15-A announces a policy of the IRS to focus on three “areas” of criteria in applying the preexisting “control test.” Significantly, the fundamental “control test” and its prior explication set out by the Service in the so-called “20 Factor” test remain valid.

Pub. 15-A also announced a new reporting form for mandatory employer use in reporting of workers determined to be independent contractors.

For completeness, I note that Pub. 15-A also discusses the threshold determination of “Who Are Employees?” and outlines the four types of business relations between the employer and persons performing services, which are:

  • Independent contractor;
  • Common-law employee;
  • Statutory employee; or,
  • Statutory non-employee.

See, Pub. 15-A pages 5-7, including examples of each.

Additional resources and comments are included in the last section below.


It is of course an understatement to say that there are multiple tests and lists of criteria for characterization of a worker as an employee or independent contractor, developed under the Internal Revenue Code for revenue purposes, under other federal laws for other regulatory purposes, and under state law for purposes arising otherwise. (The scope of Michigan or other state law is beyond this Note).

The thrust of Pub. 15-A appears to bring some additional order or guidance to preexisting criteria, and not to change those criteria or tests.

Under Pub. 15-A, the overarching issue in determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor remains the level of authority the employer retains to direct and control the worker’s activities. “In any employee-independent contractor determination, all information that provides evidence of the degree of control and the degree of independence must be considered.” Pub. 15-A p. 7 “Common-Law Rules” section. See generally, Pub. 15-A pp. 7-10.

The 20-Factor Test Remains Valid. The longstanding “20 factor” test to distinguish an independent contractor from an employee, set forth in Rev. Rul. 87-41, remains valid.

“Grouping” of Factors. Effective January 1, 2020, the IRS will “group” factors and focus on three areas of the control test:

  • Behavior Control;
  • Financial Control; and,
  • The type of relationship of the parties.

Pub. 15-A provides:

Behavior Control. Facts that show whether the business has a right to direct and control how the worker does the task for which the worker is hired include the type and degree of:”

  • Exercise of direction over time and place and sequence or means of work;
  • Whose instrumentalities (tools or equipment) are used;
  • Engagement of other workers;
  • Whether specific duties are assigned to a specific worker;
  • Instructions that the business gives to the worker;
  • Training that the business gives to the worker.

Financial control. Facts that show whether the business has a right to control the business aspects of the worker’s job include:”

  • Who pays unreimbursed business expenses;
  • The extent of the worker’s investment in facilities or tools used;
  • The extent to which the worker makes the services available to the relevant market;
  • How the business pays the worker (salary or wage vs. fee-based);
  • The extent to which the worker realizes profit or loss.

Type of relationship. Facts that show the parties’ type of relationship include:”

  • Existence and terms of a written contract;
  • Provision of benefits to worker;
  • Permanency of relationship;
  • Whether the services involved are a regular business activity of the employer.


The 1099-MISC form previously used for reporting of independent contractor compensation has been a confusing “collection bin” for various characterization and reporting issues beyond that status. For tax year 2020, Employers are required to use a new reporting form, 1099-NEC Nonemployee Compensation, replacing the prior 1099-MISC to report compensation payments to persons the employer elects to characterize as independent contractors. See, About Form 1099 NEC, Nonemployee Compensation,, and form 1099-NEC, available at


Workers Misclassified? What to Do? The IRS Voluntary Classification Settlement Program provides guidelines to be followed by employers wishing to reclassify workers for future tax periods. See, Pub. 15-A p. 7 and Voluntary Classification Settlement Program.

Relief from Liability for Mischaracterization. Unchanged by Pub. 15-A, the IRS provides potential “safe harbor” relief from liability arising from mis-characterization and mis-reporting under Section 530 of the Revenue Act of 1978, P.L. 95-600. The reporting business must meet all of the following:

  • Reporting consistency;
  • Substantive (fact) consistency; and,
  • Reasonable basis for the characterization.

See, Publication 1976, Do You Qualify for Relief Under Section 530? At

Department of Labor Test For FLSA. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime and minimum wage requirements do not apply to independent contractors. The DOL website comments that a worker may be properly characterized as an independent contractor under other statutory schemes, but not for FLSA enforcement purposes. See, Get the Facts on Misclassification Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, The DOL notes that proper classification depends on the totality of the circumstances of the activity or situation, not a specific rule or test. See, DOL Fact Sheet 13, Employment Relationship Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (July 2008),

If you have any questions on these changes, please contact Dave Houston at 517.377.0855 or

Fraser Trebilcock Shareholder Dave Houston has nearly 40 years of experience representing employers in planning, counseling, and litigating virtually all employment claims and disputes including labor relations (NLRB and MERC), wage and overtime, and employment discrimination, and negotiation of union contracts. He has authored numerous publications regarding employment issues. You can reach him at 517.377.0855 or

Michigan Court of Appeals Invalidates Lame Duck Laws Restricting Voter Initiatives

Act No. 608 of the Public Acts of 2018, approved and given immediate effect in that year’s lame duck session, amended several provisions of the Michigan Election Law to create new more restrictive procedural requirements governing voter initiatives proposing initiated laws, constitutional amendments, and referendum of legislation. Most notably, the act required that no more than 15% of the petition signatures used to determine the sufficiency of support for an initiative petition may be provided by voters in any single congressional election district – a restrictive requirement finding no support in the governing constitutional language. Other new provisions required that initiative petitions include a check box to identify petition circulators as volunteers or paid circulators and required paid circulators to file an affidavit identifying themselves as such before circulating petitions for voter signatures.

This legislation has been widely criticized as an impermissible attempt to limit the People’s constitutionally-reserved right to pursue voter initiatives proposing amendment of the Constitution, adoption of initiated laws, and referendum of enacted legislation. The new restrictions pertaining to the collection of petition signatures were particularly problematic in light of abundant case law from our Supreme Court holding that the Legislature may not impose statutory restrictions that curtail or unduly burden the free exercise of the People’s constitutional right to pursue voter-initiated proposals. Thus, it came as no surprise that the constitutional validity of this new legislation has been challenged in the courts.

On January 27, 2020, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued its published decision addressing the constitutional challenges to 2018 PA 608 in the consolidated cases of League of Women Voters, et al. v Jocelyn Benson and Senate and House of Representatives v Jocelyn Benson.  (Court of Appeals Docket Nos. 350938 and 351073) In an Opinion written by Judge Deborah Servitto and joined by Judge Michael Gadola, the Court affirmed the decision of Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens holding that the new 15% limitation on petition signatures collected from any single congressional district and the new requirement that petitions include a check box identifying the circulator as a paid or volunteer circulator are unconstitutional and therefore cannot be enforced. The Court of Appeals also agreed with the League of Women Voters and the Secretary of State that the new requirement for paid circulators to file an affidavit identifying themselves as paid circulators before circulating petitions is also unconstitutional and therefore cannot be enforced, reversing Judge Stephens’ decision to the contrary.  And like Judge Stephens, the Court of Appeals majority found that the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives lacked standing to pursue their claim for declaratory relief but received their briefs and considered their arguments in support of the legislation, nonetheless.

Judge Mark Boonstra wrote a separate Opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. He disagreed with the majority’s holding that the Legislature lacked standing to present its claims and its conclusion that the new check box requirement was unconstitutional but agreed that the new 15% signature limitation and the affidavit requirement were unconstitutional and could not be enforced.

Secretary of State Benson had joined the League of Women Voters in challenging the constitutionality of Act 608, and thus, the Senate and House of Representatives are the only parties that will have cause to seek further review in the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court, which had previously called for an expedited adjudication of this matter, has ordered that any application for leave to appeal this decision of the Court of Appeals to that Court must be filed no later than Monday, February 3rd.,  so it will soon become known whether further review of this matter will be pursued.

Graham K. Crabtree has been an appellate specialist in the Lansing office of Fraser Trebilcock since 1996. He was previously employed as Majority Counsel to the Judiciary Committee of the Michigan Senate from 1991 to 1996 and has been a member of the State Bar Appellate Practice Section Council since 2007.

Client Reminder: Form W-2 Reporting Due for Employer-Provided Health Care / Disclosure Due to CMS for Medicare Part D

Upcoming Deadlines: (1) Form W-2 Reporting of Employer-Provided Health Coverage; And (2) Medicare Part D Notices to CMS

Reminder: Form W-2 Reporting on Aggregate Cost of Employer Sponsored Coverage

Unless subject to an exemption, employers must report the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored health coverage provided in 2019 on their employees’ Form W-2 (Code DD in Box 12) issued in January 2020. Please see IRS Notice 2012-09 and our previous e-mail alerts for more information.

The following IRS link is helpful and includes a chart setting forth various types of coverage and whether reporting is required: Please note this is a summary only and Notice 2012-09 should also be consulted. The IRS has issued questions and answers regarding reporting the cost of coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan, which can be found here:

If you have questions regarding whether you or your particular benefits are subject to reporting, please feel free to contact us.

Deadline Coming Up for Calendar Year Plans to Submit Medicare Part D Notice to CMS

As you know, group health plans offering prescription drug coverage are required to disclose to all Part D-eligible individuals who are enrolled in or were seeking to enroll in the group health plan coverage whether such coverage was “actuarially equivalent,” i.e., creditable. (Coverage is creditable if its actuarial value equals or exceeds the actuarial value of standard prescription drug coverage under Part D). This notice is required to be provided to all Part D eligible persons, including active employees, retirees, spouses, dependents and COBRA qualified beneficiaries.

The regulations also require group health plan sponsors with Part D eligible individuals to submit a similar notice to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”). Specifically, employers must electronically file these notices each year through the form supplied on the CMS website.

The filing deadline is 60 days following the first day of the plan year. If you operate a calendar year plan, the deadline is the end of February. If you operate a non-calendar year plan, please be sure to keep track of your deadline.

At a minimum, the Disclosure to CMS Form must be provided to CMS annually and upon the occurrence of certain other events including:

  1. Within 60 days after the beginning date of the plan year for which disclosure is provided;
  2. Within 30 days after termination of the prescription drug plan; and
  3. Within 30 days after any change in creditable status of the prescription drug plan.

 The Disclosure to CMS Form must be completed online at the CMS Creditable Coverage Disclosure to CMS Form web page at:

  1. The online process is composed of the following three step process: Enter the Disclosure Information;
  2. Verify and Submit Disclosure Information; and
  3. Receive Submission Confirmation.

The Disclosure to CMS Form requires employers to provide detailed information to CMS including but not limited to, the name of the entity offering coverage, whether the entity has any subsidiaries, the number of benefit options offered, the creditable coverage status of the options offered, the period covered by the Disclosure to CMS Form, the number of Part D eligible individuals, the date of the notice of creditable coverage, and any change in creditable coverage status.

For more information about this disclosure requirement (instructions for submitting the notice), please see the CMS website for updated guidance at:

As with the Part D Notices to Part D Medicare-eligible individuals, while nothing in the regulations prevents a third-party from submitting the notices (such as a TPA or insurer), ultimate responsibility falls on the plan sponsor.

This email serves solely as a general summary of the Form W-2 reporting requirements and CMS disclosure for Medicare Part D.

Elizabeth H. Latchana, Attorney Fraser TrebilcockElizabeth H. Latchana specializes in employee health and welfare benefits. Recognized for her outstanding legal work, in both 2019 and 2015, Beth was selected as “Lawyer of the Year” in Lansing for Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law by Best Lawyers, and in 2017 as one of the Top 30 “Women in the Law” by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. Contact her for more information on this reminder or other matters at 517.377.0826 or

Congress Passes SECURE Act

Yesterday (December 19, 2019), Congress finally passed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (i.e., the “SECURE Act”), and President Trump is expected to sign it. The SECURE Act was previously passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in May on a 417-3 vote, but got held up in the Senate for political reasons, even though it enjoyed virtually unanimous support there as well.

The version of the Act that was eventually passed includes only minor changes from the version that the House passed in the Spring. This legislation is the most significant change to the laws governing retirement plans since the Pension Protection Act of 2006. Among the significant changes made by the SECURE Act are:

  • Relaxation of the rules governing eligibility to participate in a multiple employer retirement plan, which will make it easier for unrelated employers to participate in the same plan (also known as “Open MEPs”).
  • Increase in the age for required minimum distributions (“RMDs”) from 70½ to 72.
  • Required retirement plan eligibility, at least for elective deferral purposes, for long-term part-time employees who work at least 500 hours during each of three consecutive years. The Act does contain nondiscrimination testing relief with respect to these individuals.
  • Relaxation of certain timing and notice rules relating to safe harbor 401(k) plans.
  • Penalty-free distributions from qualified retirement plans for births and adoptions.

These changes, and others included in the SECURE Act, will have a major impact on both plan sponsors and participants, and will eventually require plan amendments. These changes will also have a significant impact on existing and future estate plans that involve retirement plan assets. Most of the changes are effective January 1, 2020, and thus will require almost immediate changes to plan administration.

If you have any questions about the upcoming changes made by the SECURE Act, please contact Brian Gallagher at (517) 377-0886 or

Brian T. Gallagher is an attorney at Fraser Trebilcock specializing in ERISA, Employee Benefits, and Deferred and Executive Compensation. He can be reached at (517) 377-0886 or

Client Alert: IRS Releases Final 2019 ACA Employer Reporting Forms and Instructions

The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has just released the Final Forms and Instructions for 2019 information reporting by employers and other entities under Internal Revenue Code sections 6055 and 6056. The links to the Final Forms and Instructions are below:

2019 Forms for Applicable Large Employers (Code section 6056):

2019 Forms for Employers who Self-Fund (Code section 6055):

These instructions and forms reflect only minor changes, such as a few formatting modifications and the reflection of indexed penalty amounts for reporting failures. The instructions also reflect the extension of due dates for furnishing statements from January 31, 2020 to March 2, 2020, as well as the extension of good faith relief for reporting and furnishing as reflected in our most recent Client Alert. Additionally, the IRS will not impose a penalty for failure to furnish Form 1095-C to any employee enrolled in an Applicable Large Employer member’s self-insured health plan who is not a full-time employee for any month of 2019 if certain conditions are met. The IRS will also not impose a penalty for failure to furnish Form 1095-B to individuals if certain conditions are met. See Notice 2019-63 at

The increased penalties are now as follows for 2019 tax year returns (and may be waived in certain circumstances):

  • The penalty for failure to file a correct information return is $270 for each return for which the failure occurs, with the total penalty for a calendar year not to exceed $3,339,000.
  • The penalty for failure to provide a correct payee statement is $270 for each statement for which the failure occurs, with the total penalty for a calendar year not to exceed $3,339,000.
  • Special rules apply that increase the per-return and per-statement and total penalties with no maximum limitations if there is intentional disregard of the requirement to file the returns and furnish recipient statements.

Additionally, the instructions for Forms 1094-B and 1095-B state that health insurance issuers and carriers are encouraged (but not required) to report coverage in catastrophic health plans enrolled in through the Marketplace for months in 2019.

The remainder of the provisions remain intact, including the mandatory electronic filing for Forms reaching the 250-return threshold.

If you should have questions regarding employer reporting requirements or other ACA mandates, the Employee Benefits Department at Fraser Trebilcock can assist.

Elizabeth H. Latchana, Attorney Fraser TrebilcockElizabeth H. Latchana specializes in employee health and welfare benefits. Recognized for her outstanding legal work, in both 2019 and 2015, Beth was selected as “Lawyer of the Year” in Lansing for Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law by Best Lawyers, and in 2017 as one of the Top 30 “Women in the Law” by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. Contact her for more information on this reminder or other matters at 517.377.0826 or

Client Alert: Delay of Deadline to Furnish Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to Individuals

Statements to Individuals

The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has extended the deadline for 2019 Information Reporting by employers (and other entities) to individuals under Internal Revenue Code sections 6055 and 6056 by just over a month. However, the deadline for these entities to file with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) remains the same.

IRS Notice 2019-63 extends the due dates for the following 2019 information reporting Forms from January 31, 2020 to March 2, 2020:

  • 2019 Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage
  • 2019 Form 1095-B, Health Coverage

Please note that no further extension beyond the March 2, 2020 deadline is allowed. Therefore, this deadline for furnishing the Forms to individuals must be met. 

Reporting to IRS

However, the due dates for filing these Forms and their Transmittals with the IRS remains unchanged. Specifically, the due date for filing the following documents with the IRS is February 28, 2020 for paper filings; however, if filing electronically, the due date is March 31, 2020 (employers who are required to file 250 or more Forms must file electronically):

  • 2019 Form 1094-B, Transmittal of Health Coverage Information Returns, and the 2019 Form 1095-B, Health Coverage
  • 2019 Form 1094-C, Transmittal of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Returns, and the
  • 2019 Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage

Additional extensions may still be available for filing these Forms with the IRS.

Good-Faith Transition Relief

IRS Notice 2019-63 also extends the good-faith transition relief from Code section 6721 and 6722, which are the Code sections imposing penalties for filing incorrect or incomplete information on the return or statement. Specifically, entities showing that they have made good faith efforts to comply may avoid penalties for incorrect or incomplete information reporting.  However, relief is not available to entities who fail to file returns or furnish the statements, miss a deadline, or otherwise had not made good faith efforts to comply.  The Notice states that in determining good faith, the IRS “will take into account whether an employer or other coverage provider made reasonable efforts to prepare for reporting the required information to the Service and furnishing it to employees and covered individuals, such as gathering and transmitting the necessary data to an agent to prepare the data for submission to the Service or testing its ability to transmit information to the Service.”

Penalty Relief for Form 1095-B Statement to Responsible Individuals

Last, the Notice addresses that as the individual shared responsibility payment was reduced to zero for months beginning after December 31, 2018, the IRS and Department of Treasury are continuing to analyze if and how the section 6055 reporting requirements should change in the future.  Comments are requested.  However, because an individual will not need the information on Form 1095-B to compute his or her federal tax liability or to file an income tax return with the IRS, the Treasury Department and the IRS have determined that relief from penalties associated with furnishing a statement under section 6055 is appropriate.  Therefore, the IRS will not assess a penalty under section 6722 against reporting entities who fail to furnish a Form 1095-B to responsible individuals if two conditions are met: 

  • First, the reporting entity posts a notice prominently on its website stating that responsible individuals may receive a copy of their 2019 Form 1095-B upon request, accompanied by an email address and a physical address to which a request may be sent, as well as a telephone number that responsible individuals can use to contact the reporting entity with any questions.
  • Second, the reporting entity furnishes a 2019 Form 1095-B to any responsible individual upon request within 30 days of the date the request is received.

This relief does not extend to the requirement that applicable large employers (ALEs) must furnish Forms 1095-C to full-time employees, whether or not self-insured health plans.  Those statements must continue to be provided.  However, the penalty relief will apply to employees enrolled in an ALE’s self-insured health plan who are not full-time employees for any month of 2019.

You can find the full Notice here:

If you should have questions regarding employer reporting requirements or other ACA mandates, the Employee Benefits Department at Fraser Trebilcock can assist.

Elizabeth H. Latchana, Attorney Fraser TrebilcockElizabeth H. Latchana specializes in employee health and welfare benefits. Recognized for her outstanding legal work, in both 2019 and 2015, Beth was selected as “Lawyer of the Year” in Lansing for Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law by Best Lawyers, and in 2017 as one of the Top 30 “Women in the Law” by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. Contact her for more information on this reminder or other matters at 517.377.0826 or

Client Alert: IRS Announces 2020 Increase for Health FSAs

The IRS has just released its 2020 annual inflation adjustments, in which it announced that the dollar limitation under Code section 125 on voluntary employee salary reductions for contribution to health flexible spending arrangements (health FSAs) is increasing to $2,750. Previously the limitation was $2,700. The authority for this increase can be found in Rev. Proc. 2019-44: This link takes you to the IRS annual inflation adjustments for more than 60 tax provisions.

Although open enrollment season is about to be in full swing for most, employers should ensure that their salary reduction agreements and related enrollment materials are updated to reflect this increase. Additionally, employers will want to review their Code section 125 cafeteria plan documents to ensure these also allow for such an increase.

Elizabeth H. Latchana, Attorney Fraser TrebilcockElizabeth H. Latchana specializes in employee health and welfare benefits. Recognized for her outstanding legal work, in both 2019 and 2015, Beth was selected as “Lawyer of the Year” in Lansing for Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law by Best Lawyers, and in 2017 as one of the Top 30 “Women in the Law” by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. Contact her for more information on this reminder or other matters at 517.377.0826 or

Up in Smoke – Section 280E’s Buzz not Harsh by Excessive Fines Clause: Northern California Small Business Assistants, Inc. v Commissioner

A tax provision that blocks marijuana companies from claiming federal business tax deductions is constitutional ruled the U.S. Tax Court on October 23rd. Northerner California Small Business Assistants, Inc. v Commissioner, 153 TC No. 4 (No. 26889-16, October 23, 2019).

Northern California Small Business Assistants, Inc., a California medical marijuana business, claimed $1.5 million in ordinary and necessary business expenses for its 2012 tax year. The IRS disallowed the company’s tax deductions under Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code. That provision blocks companies that are involved in drug trafficking from claiming business deductions and credit that are available to businesses not engaged in trafficking in controlled substances (within the meaning of schedule I and II of the Controlled Substances Act).

Cannabis companies that are organized and operated legally under state law, face what amounts to a federal income tax on their gross receipts – with effective tax rates as high as 70% because for federal purposes, those companies are considered to be trafficking in the illegal drug trade. Some types of marijuana businesses are able to reduce the amount of their income subject to tax based on their inventory costs.

The Company claimed that Section 280E violated the prohibition on excessive fines contained in the Eighth Amendment. The Excessive Fines Clause guards against abuses of the government’s ability to punish civil or criminal infractions. Specifically the company argued that:

  • The Eighth Amendment applied to corporations,
  • That Section 280E operates as a penalty through the tax laws on the company’s gross receipts, and
  • That this “penalty” is excessive.

The Tax Court held, however, that Section 280E does not violate the Constitution because it is not a penalty provision. “Despite efforts by several States to legalize marijuana use to varying degrees, it remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance within the meaning of the Controlled Substance Act,” wrote Judge Joseph Goeke. “Unlike in other context where the Supreme Court has found a financial burden to be a penalty, disallowing a deduction from gross income is not a punishment,” said the Court. The court noted its holding was consistent with the only Circuit Court of Appeals decision on this point.

The company also argued that, assuming Section 280E is constitutional, that it should be applied more narrowly than as interpreted by the IRS.  According to the taxpayer, while Section 280E may be appropriately applied to limit ordinary and necessary business expenses, other provisions, such as depreciation deductions, and the deductions for state and local taxes should be excluded from Section 280E’s reach. The Tax Court declined this invitation, stating, “Congress could not have been clearer in drafting this section [280E] of the Code.”

Perhaps most interesting, is that there were two dissenting opinions. Judge Gustason, dissenting in part, wrote that he believed Section 280E unconstitutionally exceeded Congress’ power to impose an income tax under the Sixteenth Amendment. “I would hold that this wholesale disallowance of all deductions transforms the ostensible income tax into something that is not an income tax at all, but rather a tax on an amount greater than the taxpayer’s ‘income’.”

Judge Copeland, agreeing with Judge Gustafson’s dissent, also wrote a partial dissent of her own, insisting that Section 280E is a penalty and urging further analysis of whether it violates the Eighth Amendment.

Read full opinion here.

Fraser Trebilcock attorney Paul V. McCord has more than 20 years of tax litigation experience, including serving as a clerk on the U.S. Tax Court and as a judge of the Michigan Tax Tribunal. Paul has represented clients before the IRS, Michigan Department of Treasury, other state revenue departments and local units of government. He can be contacted at 517.377.0861 or

Department of Labor Releases Proposed Regulations Expanding Employer’s Ability to Provide ERISA Disclosures Electronically

Pursuant to a 2018 Executive Order, the Department of Labor released proposed regulations this week which would expand an employer’s ability to provide ERISA disclosures electronically. These rules do not replace existing guidance, but instead add an additional safe harbor option for employers to comply.

The proposed regulations essentially adopt a “notice and access” regime under which employers may post required disclosures on a website and provide participants with notification of their availability and instructions for access. Critically—after providing a one-time initial notice on paper—this notification may be delivered electronically as a default, as long as the participant either:

  1. Provides a personal email address to the employer, plan sponsor, or plan administrator, as a condition of his or her employment, OR
  2. Is assigned an email address by the employer.

For former employees, the employer must take reasonable steps to ensure that it continues to have an accurate email address for the terminated participant. Participants who desire to receive the disclosures on paper are permitted to opt out of electronic delivery.

The content of the notice of internet availability is fairly standard, as far as ERISA disclosures go, and the proposed regulations place a strong emphasis on the use of ordinary language, indicating that the notice should use “short sentences without double negatives, everyday words rather than technical and legal terminology, active voice, and language that results in a Flesch Reading Ease test score of at least 60.” Generally, a separate notice is required for each document, but there are opportunities for combining these notices and providing them on an annual basis.

While these proposed rules are generally a positive development, we expect that employers will be disappointed to learn that—at least at this point—these rules are limited to retirement plans (although the proposed regulations do reserve consideration for the possibility of expansion to health and welfare plans). It is also important to note that these rules are merely proposed and that plan sponsors should continue following the existing ERISA disclosure rules unless and until the regulations are adopted as final.

If you have any questions about the rules that apply to participant disclosures for your retirement plans, please contact Brian Gallagher at (517) 377-0886 or

Brian T. Gallagher is an attorney at Fraser Trebilcock specializing in ERISA, Employee Benefits, and Deferred and Executive Compensation. He can be reached at (517) 377-0886 or