Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation

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Successful employee benefits and executive compensation planning requires a proactive approach as well as the experience to navigate the complexities of evolving laws and regulations affecting employee benefits. For decades, Dickinson Wright’s Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation practice has delivered comprehensive and integrative solutions to serve the needs of employers and their employees while helping clients minimize costs and avoid penalties and litigation.

As a full-service law firm, we draw from our entire firm’s strengths, working closely with members in our Corporate, Mergers and Acquisitions, Labor and Employment, ERISA litigation, and Taxation practices to provide clients a big-picture view of employee benefits matters. Additionally, we consult with actuaries, accountants, and other benefits consultants to ensure that benefits plans and programs meet our clients’ specific business needs and goals.

Our Clients

From start-ups to international corporations, our clients come to us from a variety of industries and include publicly and privately held companies, automotive suppliers, financial institutions, medical providers, and private equity firms.

Our Team

Our Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation practice is ranked in Chambers USA® and many of our team members have been individually recognized by Chambers USA®, Super Lawyers®, Best Lawyers®, and other leading evaluating organizations. Additionally, a number of our lawyers have served as plan sponsors and fiduciaries of the firm’s own retirement and welfare benefit plans.

Our Services

In keeping with our tradition of a proactive approach, we help our clients avoid costly lawsuits by ensuring they stay informed about even the slightest change in employee benefits laws. We work closely with our clients to draft, review, and implement plans for every area of employee benefits, including:

• Arbitration Clauses and Agreements Insurance  
• Disability and Family Leave Insurance Litigation
• Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs)            • Nondiscrimination Rules
ERISA Litigation • Retirement and Pension Plans
• Executive Compensation • The Affordable Care Act
Health Care • Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Associations (VEBAs)
Health Care Litigation • Welfare and Fringe Benefit Plans

Retirement and Pension Plans

Our employee benefits team provides comprehensive solutions design, implementation, and administration of:

• 401(k) and pension plans        • Code Section 403(b) plans
• Profit-sharing • Code Section 457 plans
• Defined benefits • Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plans
• Cash balance • Simple IRA plans

Welfare and Fringe Benefit Plans

We handle legal matters related to a variety of insured and self-funded welfare benefit plans, including:

• Group Health Plans           • Section 125 Cafeteria Plans 
• Life Insurance • Dependent care assistance programs
• Disability • Health Savings Account (HSA)

Executive Compensation

Our attorneys advise companies and compensation committees on laws governing executive compensation programs, including tax, ERISA, and securities law, ensuring compliance with legislative and regulatory requirements and corporate best practices. Our executive compensation services include:

• Executive employment agreements, severance plans, and life insurance programs.
• Long- and short-term cash incentive plans
• Equity-based compensation plans
• Excess benefit plans
• Phantom stock plans
• Deferred compensation agreements
• Restricted stock unit arrangements
• Code Section 457 arrangements for tax-exempt employers


Designed to relieve employers from the liabilities of lifetime health care coverage, pension payments, and other benefits promised to retirees, Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Associations (VEBAs) have become standard tools – particularly in corporate bankruptcies – for companies seeking to cap the cost of retiree benefits and eliminate the necessity of reflecting future benefit obligations on GAAP compliant financial statements. Our work includes:

• Constructing VEBA plans and creating VEBAs and new welfare benefit plans to replace employer-provided benefits
• Designing VEBAs that provide health reimbursement for health insurance and life insurance.
• Negotiating VEBA settlement agreements in Chapter 11 bankruptcies.
• Creating and drafting VEBA trusts, financial investment guidelines, and board of director bylaws.
• Providing HIPAA training and long-term assistance in the administration of VEBA plans
• Devising mechanisms tying employee productivity to the employer's obligation to fund VEBAs at various levels.
• Assisting nonprofits to maximize state contract benefits.

Representative Matters

– Counsel to a diverse group of employers in the tax and ERISA aspects of welfare benefit plans, including Section 125 plans, COBRA compliance, consumer-directed health plans, retiree medical plans, VEBAs, and wellness plans.

–Served as counsel to governmental entities in connection with the operation of defined contribution, defined benefit, retiree health, and medical plans.

–Counseled clients on how to correct retirement plan administration errors, including late transfer of deferrals and failure to timely amend plan documents.

Counseled clients on qualified retirement plan and labor relations issues in the context of union negotiations and collective bargaining, including multiemployer pension fund contribution obligations, managing any withdrawal liability and addressing all other relevant issues.

–Provided strategic advice and analysis for a publicly traded Fortune 500 company on an approach to managing multiemployer pension funds in endangered or critical status and withdrawal liability risks for more than 100 multiemployer pension funds.

–Advised plan sponsors on the design, implementation, and administration of various retirement plans, including 401(k), profit sharing, defined benefit, ESOP, 403(b), and 457 plans, and advised investment committees on their ERISA fiduciary responsibilities concerning these plans.

–Assisted companies and their owners in structuring and implementing employee stock ownership plans (ESOP) in connection with the sale of company stock to the ESOP, including advising concerning deferral of gain recognition under IRC Section 104L2.

–Advised companies on the design, implementation, and administration of insured and self-insured medical plans, dental plans, life insurance, disability, and cafeteria plans, including pre-tax premium plans and flexible spending account plans, and compliance with the Affordable Care Act.

–Counseled numerous clients on the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Designed a health risk assessment program that complies with ERISA, HIPAA, ADA, and GINA, integrated with employers’ wellness programs and incentives, and determined if eligibility to participate in the health plan could be contingent on completing HRA.

–Counsel companies and compensation committees on tax, ERISA, and securities law aspects of executive compensation programs, such as supplemental executive retirement plans, excess benefit plans, change of control agreements, executive severance agreements, nonqualified deferred compensation plans, restricted stock plans, stock option plans, equity and other incentive programs, insurance-based programs, retirement incentive programs, and employee stock discount purchase plans.

–Assured that deferred compensation plans and employment agreements are fully compliant with Section 409A of the Internal Revenue Code.

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