DOL Announces Relief for Certain ERISA Deadlines

May 12, 2020

On April 29, 2020, the DOL’s EBSA issued Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01, which provides certain relief for group health plans, retirement plans, sponsors, fiduciaries, participants and service providers subject to ERISA. Due to the COVID-19 national emergency, parties will have additional time to comply with certain ERISA deadlines occurring on or after March 1, 2020, through the period ending 60 days after the termination of the national emergency. In the case that different regions of the country will have different end dates related to the national emergency, the DOL will issue future related guidance.

In addition to the relief provided separately for deadlines related to COBRA, HIPAA Special Enrollment Rights, claims processing and Form 5500, the new notice provides relief related to:

  • Blackout Notices
    Generally, a plan administrator is required to provide 30 days’ advance notice to participants and beneficiaries whose rights under the plan will be temporarily suspended, limited or restricted by a blackout period of more than three consecutive business days. Relief is available if the administrator is unable to provide the notice because of circumstances related to COVID-19. Plans should use good faith effort to comply. Good faith for this purpose includes use of electronic disclosure with plan participants and beneficiaries who the plan fiduciary reasonably believes have effective access to electronic means of communication, including email, text messages and continuous access websites.
  • Verification Procedures for Plan Loans and Distributions
    If an employee pension benefit plan fails to follow procedural requirements for plan loans or distributions imposed by the terms of the plan, relief is available if the failure is related solely to COVID-19, the administrator makes a good-faith diligent effort to comply, and the administrator makes a reasonable attempt to correct any procedural deficiencies (such as assembling any missing documentation).
  • Participant Contributions and Loan Repayments
    Generally, any participant contribution or repayment of a loan to an employee pension benefit plan constitutes plan assets. As such, an employer generally must forward the amounts to the plan on the earliest date on which they can be segregated from general assets, which can be no later than the 15th business day of the month following the month in which the amount was withheld or paid. The DOL will not take enforcement action with respect to a temporary delay in forwarding contributions or repayments if the failure is solely attributable to COVID-19. Employers and service providers must act reasonably, prudently and in the interest of employees to comply as soon as administratively practicable under the circumstances.
  • M-1 Filings
    Similar to Form 5500s, filings due between April 1 and before July 15, 2020, are now due July 15, 2020. This would affect any M-1 filing for which the plan administrator sought an extension of time to file from the normal March 1 deadline.

The guidance is effective immediately upon publication. In general, the DOL expects plans to act reasonably, prudently and in the interest of plan participants and beneficiaries. Plan fiduciaries should make reasonable accommodations to prevent the loss of benefits or undue delay in benefits payments in such cases and should attempt to minimize the possibility of individuals losing benefits because of a failure to comply with preestablished timeframes.

EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01 »