By now, plan fiduciaries and their service providers likely have heard about the DOL’s cybersecurity guidance. The Department of Labor’s stepping into cybersecurity in this way – a posting of best practices on the agency’s website – has left plan fiduciaries with some questions. Here are a few:

  • “When is this effective?”
  • “Does this apply to me?”
  • “Could I be liable if a service provider has a data breach?”
  • “We are halfway through the term of our services agreement with our recordkeeper, do we need to do something now?”
  • “This is IT’s problem, right?”
  • “What exactly do we have to do to be ‘prudent’?”
  • “Do we have to communicate anything to plan participants?”
  • “If our service provider had a data breach, do we have to terminate the relationship?” “What factors should we considering in making that decision?”

So, what are plan fiduciaries actually thinking? Fortunately, we’ve been able to obtain snippets of conversations between plan fiduciaries that may provide some insight into that question. Here is our first installment, and, of course, we redacted the text to protect the privacy of the individuals.

Retirement Plan Committee Chair: So, what did you think of your first retirement plan committee meeting?

New Committee Member: Well it sounds like it will be really interesting…though, I’m a little bit nervous about the personal responsibility part and I’m not much of a technology person. I keep hearing about these breaches in the news, ransomware, you know, and I was one of the people on the gas line due to the Colonial Pipeline incident.

Retirement Plan Committee Chair: I know what you mean. During the time we were out of the office for COVID, if it weren’t for my 13-year-old, I don’t think I would have been able to get onto any conference calls! But I think we have a good team and good procedures. There is a fiduciary training coming up and I believe they will cover this.

New Committee Member: Yea, that will be good. I am not sure I know all the service providers we have for the plans. We spoke a lot about the 401(k) plan’s recordkeeper tonight, are there others?

Retirement Plan Committee Chair: That is a good question. We definitely will need to identify all of our service providers, particularly those handling plan data. I know we have an auditor, and then there is our investment advisory firm…

New Committee Member (interrupting): …and what about the financial wellness vendor?

Retirement Plan Committee Chair: Yes, them too. Well, we should probably regroup after the training and come up with a plan. I have to run, see you next week.

New Committee Member:  OK, bye.

It looks like this organization takes its retirement plan administration seriously and has some thoughtful people on the team. Retirement committees generally are not required under ERISA but they can be a valuable tool for organizing the administrative responsibilities of an employee benefit plan.

Getting more educated on “cybersecurity” is a good initial step for a committee or plan fiduciaries generally. Done right, training will help fiduciaries better understand the threats and vulnerabilities to data generally (not just from criminal hackers) and gain more insight into the DOL’s best practices. Such training also can help plan fiduciaries (and personnel on virtually all levels of plan administration) appreciate more of the ways data may be accessed or transmitted in the course of operating a plan. Looking at plan operations from that perspective, where data lives and how it moves, can help plan fiduciaries identify the service providers they need to be thinking about.

Perhaps the most important nugget from the exchange above for addressing the DOL’s guidance is from the Retirement Plan Committee Chair – come up with a plan!

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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.