Labor Department Extends Employee Benefits Deadlines

  • Apr 30, 2020
  • COVID-19
  • Laura I. Bernstein

The Department of Labor (DOL) has issued two new COVID-19 notices regarding the extension of deadlines involving employee benefit plan participants, beneficiaries, sponsors and employers impacted by COVID-19.

The first is a joint notice issued by the DOL, the IRS, and the Treasury Department. It extends several deadlines under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) and the Internal Revenue Code impacting healthcare coverage portability and coverage and continuation of benefits under COBRA.

Filing and Notice Deadlines Extended

Under the joint notice, group health plans, disability, employee welfare benefit plans, and employee pension plans subject to ERISA or the IRS shall disregard the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the official end of the COVID national emergency in determining requests for enrollment, election of COBRA coverage, the date for making COBRA premium payments, the dates for individuals to notify the plan of a qualifying event or determination of disability, the deadline for filing benefit claims, and the deadlines for filing appeals of benefit determinations and external reviews. The extension also applies to securing alternative coverage from another group health plan, the Health Insurance Marketplace or a government plan.

Disclosure Deadlines Extended

The second notice was issued by the DOL’s Employee Benefits and Security Administration (“EBSA”) and applies to employee benefit plans, employers, labor organizations, and other plans sponsors, plan fiduciaries, participants, and beneficiaries, and service providers. The notice extends the time for plan officials to provide benefit statements, annual funding notices and other ERISA-required disclosures.

Like the joint notice, the deadline is extended until 60 days after the officially-announced end of the COVID-19 national emergency period as long as fiduciaries act in good faith and provide the information “as soon as administratively practicable under the circumstances.” Notably, such “good faith” efforts include the use of electronic means of communication with plan participants and beneficiaries who the plan fiduciary “reasonably believes have access to electronic means of communication.”

Additionally, the EBSA notice states that the Department will not take enforcement action against employers or service providers who fail to forward participant payments and withholdings to employee pension benefit plans from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the official end of the COVID national emergency where the failure is solely “attributable to the COVID outbreak.”

The DOL also issued a collection of FAQs addressing these new notices and related health benefit and retirement benefit issues.

Bottom Line

The extensions enacted by these notices attempt to minimize the potential for individuals to lose benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic while also recognizing that affected plans may struggle to comply with payment notice obligations during this time.

We will continue to update you as additional guidance is issued.