Counsel For Employers On Employee Benefits/ERISA
No area of the law is more dynamic than employee benefits plans. Frequent regulations issued by the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor present constant challenges to employers and their legal counsel.
Our attorneys routinely advise businesses of varying sizes with regard to compliance with ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code. Our work with employee benefits plans includes:
Qualified Employee Benefit Plans
Houston Harbaugh provides legal counsel with regard to various types of qualified retirement plans, including 401(k) and profit sharing plans, defined benefit pension plans (including cash balance plans), and employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs). We maintain plan documents for approximately 350 clients and advise these clients when law and regulation changes require plan amendments. Our experience includes plans maintained pursuant to collective bargaining agreements as well as plans maintained for non-union employees. We work closely with our clients’ actuaries, accountants, investment advisors and third-party plan administrators to assist our clients in making sure that their benefit plans satisfy all legal requirements and meet their goals in terms of employee retention, recruiting, etc. Our work encompasses all phases in the life cycle of a qualified plan, including plan design and implementation, plan maintenance and plan termination. As part of our services, we regularly represent clients in front of the IRS, DOL and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, in the context of government audits, determination letter applications, and correction of qualified plan errors under the IRS’ Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS).
Nonqualified Plans for Executives and Key Employees
We frequently assist clients with the design and documentation of nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements for executives and other key employees. Thorough knowledge in this area is critical due to Section 409A of the Internal Revenue Code, which imposes significant tax penalties for plans that do not comply with complicated requirements set forth in 400 pages of IRS regulations. We also advise clients with regard to equity-based compensation arrangements, including stock options, stock appreciation rights and phantom stock plans.
Welfare Benefit Plans
We also provide counsel with regard to all types of welfare benefit plans, including group health plans (insured and self-funded), dental and vision plans, cafeteria plans, life insurance plans and disability plans (short-term and long-term). A major aspect of this work is compliance with the requirements imposed by the Affordable Care Act, COBRA, HIPAA and other laws which require specific employee notices.
Mergers and Acquisitions
Decisions regarding benefit plans are a key factor in any corporate transaction. We assist clients with the benefit plan due diligence involved in mergers and acquisitions, and we provide advice with regard to employee transitions. This includes analysis of benefit plan options, including particularly plan terminations, mergers and spin-offs, and redesign of plans as appropriate for expanding or shrinking workforces.
“Over the years, Gary has been a trusted advisor; knowledgeable and supportive, timely and efficient. He has helped us countless times with his guidance and insight. In today’s environment, where it can be rare to have a professional relationship endure, DDI has been privileged to have a solid, lasting and beneficial relationship.”
Dave Thomas, CEBS, Manager, Benefits, Development Dimensions International, Inc. (DDI)
“[Gary] helped me navigate the complexity of the regulations and made a daunting project [merger of existing 401(k) plans] much more manageable, one that ended up being well received and successful. [Gary] has the unique ability of providing useful and reliable guidance on issues that can be very technical in nature, all while keeping it in terms that a non-legal professional can understand.”
-Jamie O’Neill, Manager, Compensation, HR Systems and Retirement, LB Foster
“Gary is prompt with his response in anything that I have asked him. Very knowledgeable in answering any questions I have and explains them well. I would recommend his services to anyone.”
-Mary Alice Grusch, Pension Coordinator, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Gary’s expertise, combined with his sense of urgency in responding to our issues and concerns, has provided the foundation for a relationship that has continued for over 15 years. His competence and ability to communicate at all levels have allowed him to successfully lead our company through some very complex decisions with regard to our retirement plan program.”
-Donna Cree, Benefits Manager, Ward Transport & Logistics Corp
“ESB Bank has entrusted Houston Harbaugh, and specifically Gary Gunnett, to handle legal aspects of our employee benefits plans since 1995. We have been extremely pleased with Gary’s knowledge of employee benefit laws and regulations and, more importantly, how to best insure that our plans are in compliance.
Gary is quick to respond to inquiries, address pertinent issues, takes a proactive stance on keeping me current with plan issues and deadlines, and does so at a competitive price. He has an excellent working relationship with our ESOP record keeper, which has proven to be a valuable plus.”
-John T. Studna, Senior Vice President – Human Resources, ESB Bank
“As we celebrate our 50th year in business, we are happy to acknowledge both Gary and his firm as being extremely instrumental to our success. We have worked with Houston Harbaugh since 1975 and with Gary since 1990. Gary is a learned, competent and highly-responsive advisor and trusted friend to me and our group of companies.”
-Mark S. Lock, President, Chartiers Enterprises, Inc., parent company of Atlas Industries et al.