On April 28th, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) issued a number of items under Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) to help participants and beneficiaries of employee benefit plans, and their service providers, who have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. These items include a final rule, new department guidance, and a frequently asked questions document.

Final Rule Extending Time Frames

 The Department of Labor’s final rule was issued jointly with the Department of the Treasury and Internal Revenue Service, and allows the following:

  • The extension of certain time frames affecting participants’ rights to healthcare coverage, portability, and continuation of group health plan coverage under COBRA; and
  • The extension of the time allowed for plan participants to file or perfect benefit claims or appeals of denied claims.

These extensions provide participants and beneficiaries of employee benefit plans additional time to make important health coverage decisions that affect their benefits during the coronavirus outbreak. The joint notice is posted on EBSA’s website and will be published in an upcoming edition of the Federal Register.

New EBSA Guidance on Notices and Disclosures

During this period when many employees are performing their jobs from locations other than the physical workplace, the EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01 extends the time allowed for plan officials to furnish benefit statements, annual funding notices, and other notices and disclosures required by ERISA. Employers, however, still have to make a good faith effort to furnish the documents as soon as administratively practicable. The Disaster Relief Notice further explains that “good faith” includes the use of electronic alternative means of communicating with plan participants and beneficiaries when possible, including:

  • email,
  • text messages, and
  • continuous access websites.

The Notice also includes compliance assistance guidance on plan loans, participant contributions and loan payments, blackout notices, Form 5500 and Form M-1 filing relief, and other general compliance guidance on ERISA fiduciary responsibilities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Finally, the EBSA issued a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on health benefit and retirement benefit issues to help employee benefit plan participants, beneficiaries, plan sponsors, and employers impacted by the coronavirus outbreak understand their rights and responsibilities under ERISA.

Even during this time of crisis, the EBSA is committed to assure the security of the retirement, health, and other workplace related benefits of America’s workers and their families.

According to Assistant Secretary of Labor for EBSA, Preston Rutledge, “EBSA will continue to safeguard the employee benefits of American workers while ensuring that employers and plans have the flexibility they need to continue delivering benefits during this challenging time.”