Proposed Exception to MEP Unified Plan Rule
Proposed regulations would provide an exception to the unified plan rule for multiple employer plans (MEPs). The purpose is to reduce the risk of plan disqualification due to noncompliance by other participating employers. The regulations would apply on or after the publication date of final regulations in the Federal Register. They cannot be relied upon until then. Comments and requests for a public hearing must be received by October 1, 2019.
Multiple Employer Plans
A MEP is a single plan with adopted by multiple unrelated employers. Multiple employer plans under Code Sec. 413(c) can be structured either as:
an open MEP where an organization with employees takes the lead by establishing the plan for its own employees, and has other unrelated employers join the plan as co-sponsors;
a closed MEP in which a group or association of employers that meets a commonality requirement takes the lead in establishing the plan, and members are free to adopt it.
Open MEPs are often established by organizations that specialize in providing benefits for smaller employers (typically, 401(k) plans). Note that MEPs are distinct from union multi-employer plans governed by Code Sec. 413(b), but share some of the same rules.
Under the unified plan rule in the current regulations for both MEPs and multi-employer plans, a qualification or operational failure by one employer can result in a total plan failure for all participating employers. The administration is trying to change that, to encourage MEP participation.
Under the proposed regulations, an eligible defined contribution MEP would qualify for an exception to the unified plan rule. The exception turns on the ability of the MEP plan administrator under the terms of the plan to spin off the assets and account balances attributable to employees of a noncompliant participating employer into a separate plan and then termination of that plan. A spinoff could be either a spinoff initiated by the unresponsive participating employer and implemented by the plan administrator, or a spinoff-termination implemented by the plan administrator.
The exception would be available if the participating employer is responsible for a qualification failure that it is unable or unwilling to correct. It would also be available if the participating employer is non-responsive to the plan administrator’s reasonable and timely requests for information or for action.
Under the proposed exception, a defined contribution MEP would not be disqualified on account of a participating employer failure if the following conditions are satisfied:
the MEP satisfies certain eligibility requirements, including established practices and procedures to promote compliance and a requirement to adopt relevant plan language;
the MEP plan administrator provides notice and an opportunity for the unresponsive participating employer to take remedial action;
the administrator implements a spinoff in the event the unresponsive participating employer fails to take appropriate remedial action; and
the administrator complies with any information request by the IRS or a representative of the spun-off plan made in connection with an IRS examination of the spun-off plan, including an information request related to the unresponsive participating employer’s participation in the MEP for years prior to the spinoff.
Participating employer failures would include known compliance failures, as well as failure to provide information to the MEP plan administrator so that the administrator can determine whether there is an actual plan or operational failure.