The IRS has commenced a compliance initiative project (“CIP”) aimed at nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements subject to Section 409A of the Internal Revenue Code (“409A”). Although the project scope is limited, employers with arrangements that may be subject to 409A should take this regulatory action as a prompting to review their arrangements and make any corrections needed to ensure compliance with the law.

409A Audit Project. The IRS project was announced unofficially on May 9, 2014 and will involve limited-scope audits of nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements of no more than fifty employers. These employers have already been selected for the CIP from an existing population of employers that are undergoing employment tax audits based, in part, on the likelihood that they maintain 409A arrangements. An IRS official has indicated that these employers were not selected solely for this CIP. These employers will receive Information Document Requests (“IDRs”) from the IRS focusing on three major aspects of 409A compliance:

  1. Initial deferral elections. Initial elections to defer compensation and fix the time and manner of payment must generally be made before the taxable year in which the compensation is earned, unless an exception applies.
  2. Subsequent deferral elections. Subsequent elections to change the time or form of payment generally may not accelerate a distribution, and elections to delay a distribution generally may not take effect for 12 months and must delay the distribution for at least 5 years.
  3. Distributions. Distributions from 409A arrangements generally may only be made upon a specified date, separation from service, death, disability, change in control, or unforeseeable emergency. There may also be a six-month delay on distributions to “specified employees” of public companies.

The IDRs will ask employers to identify their top ten highly compensated individuals and report whether any of these individuals made deferral elections under, or received distributions from, a 409A arrangement during the years under examination in the employment tax audit. The IRS will then review any such elections and distributions for compliance with the above rules. The IRS will use the project to test compliance with 409A, determine whether the IDRs are effective in gathering information and refine its audit techniques, presumably in preparation for larger-scale 409A audits in the future. An IRS official has indicated that the CIP is expected to be completed within 12 months.

Takeaway for Employers. The limited scope of the project means that the vast majority of employers will not be audited just yet. However, signs are clear that IRS agents are “sharpening their pencils” and ramping up enforcement of 409A compliance. Employers should take this opportunity to review their nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements for documentary and operational compliance with 409A and promptly self-correct any violations under IRS correction programs (which are generally no longer available once an IRS audit has commenced).

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.