As the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) continues its focus on auditing apprenticeship and training funds expenses, AGC has learned that in addition to graduation ceremonies and marketing, EBSA is also finding excessive expenses associated with apprenticeship competitions and instructor retirement dinners.
According to Phyllis C. Borzi, Assistant Secretary of Labor for EBSA, there is so much confusion over apprenticeship competitions that EBSA expects to issue guidance on allowable expenses later this month. At a public meeting attended by AGC, Borzi said that “modest” expenses associated with travel for apprentices to attend a competition may be deemed allowable, but lavish spending – such as first-class airfare for apprentices and guests, limousine transportation, hotel suites, etc. – would not be allowable.
She said instructor retirement dinners and cash gifts to instructors also are being scrutinized by EBSA auditors, although she did not say whether the upcoming field bulletin would include guidance on those items.
Borzi added that just because a representative from the state or federal Department of Labor (DOL) attends an event – be it a graduation ceremony, retirement dinner or apprenticeship competition – it does not mean that the event is in compliance with the law. She cited the 2011 U.S. DOL event marking the 100th anniversary of state-registered apprenticeships that was held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and at which Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis spoke, as an event that some apprenticeship training funds spent large amounts to attend. EBSA does not consider those expenses appropriate for a training fund because there could have been no expectation on the part of most out-of-state apprenticeship programs that the people attending the event would have a direct interest in joining their specific apprenticeship program.
Apprenticeship and training programs that are covered by Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) – typically those that run a multi-year training program registered with DOL’s Office of Apprenticeship or a recognized State Apprenticeship Agency – are subject to an EBSA audit and should be aware both of EBSA’s stepped-up auditing of such programs and which expenses cannot be funded by the training funds.
While conducting audits, EBSA is finding instances of fund administrators who are unaware they are covered by ERISA, and advises all apprenticeship and training fund administrators to check the ERISA website, which offers tools and compliance information. EBSA currently has 200 open investigations nationwide, Borzi said.
EBSA hosted a webinar on apprenticeship plans and fiduciary responsibilities on July 26, 2012, which is archived online.
For further information apprenticeship and training fund expenses, please see Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-01, issued by EBSA on April 2, 2012.