On June 22, 2020, the United States Department of Labor (the “DOL”) submitted a proposed regulation (the “Proposal”) regarding the use of Environmental, Social and Governance (“ESG”) factors in selecting investments for plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (“ERISA”). The Proposal generally cautions plan fiduciaries against considering ESG factors when making investment decisions, unless such factors are relevant to the plan’s pecuniary goals.

Interest in ESG-themed investments has surged in popularity in recent years. One 2020 survey showed that nearly 74% of global investors intend to increase their allocation to ESG-oriented ETFs. However, ESG-themed investments have also captured the attention of regulators, including the DOL. The Securities and Exchange Commission recently listed ESG investments in its list of examination priorities with respect to the accuracy and adequacy of disclosures in the marketing of such investments. In addition, President Trump issued an Executive Order on April 10, 2019, which included a section on ESG investments. The Executive Order required the DOL Secretary to complete a review of trends with respect to ERISA plan investment in the energy sector.
Continue Reading DOL Proposed Rule Urges Caution Regarding the Use of ESG Factors When Selecting Investments for ERISA Plans

The Department of Labor’s recent pronouncement on the permissibility of investing 401(k) and other defined contribution plan assets in private equity has gotten wide-spread attention. Yet the guidance, which was issued in the form of an information letter, does not establish any new fiduciary principles, or provide any exemptions under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). This blog discusses why the recent guidance is so significant and what it does and does not do.
Continue Reading DOL Issues Guidance about Private Equity Investments in 401(k) Plans

As most of you have heard, on March 15, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion vacating, in its entirety, the Department of Labor’s amendment to regulations defining “investment advice” for the purpose of determining who is a fiduciary (the “DOL Fiduciary Rule”) on the basis that the Department violated the Administrative Procedures Act and exceeded its regulatory authority.  The Department had the right to request an en banc review of the decision by the full Fifth Circuit panel within 45 days of the date of the decision and to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court within 90 days after the date of the decision.  The Department of Labor did not file the request for review or an appeal to the Supreme Court within such deadlines.  On June 21, 2018, the Fifth Circuit issued the mandate implementing its decision to vacate the DOL Fiduciary Rule.
Continue Reading The Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule: Lots of Work, Lots of Drama, Lots of Uncertainty

Many alternative funds in recent years have included environmental, social or governance (“ESG”) considerations as part of their investment strategies. On April 23, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued new guidance under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (“ERISA”) on the extent to which a plan fiduciary can consider ESG factors when making investment decisions and the use of plan assets in exercising shareholder rights.
Continue Reading New DOL Guidance May Cause ERISA Plans to Be Wary of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Themed Investment Options