Coronavirus and Retirement Plan Extension Relief

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, new guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor, the IRS, and the Department of the Treasury extends a number of deadlines for retirement plan notifications and benefit plan claims required by Title I of ERISA as follows:

ERISA Disclosures and Notices Extensions

Deadlines to provide statements, notices, and disclosures mandated by ERISA may be delayed during the COVID-19 period (March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the end of the national emergency has been announced) provided that fiduciaries act in good faith and provide the mandated communications as soon as practical. This includes (but is not limited to) the following:

  • Summary annual reports;
  • Annual funding notices;
  • Summary plan descriptions;
  • Blackout notices;
  • Qualified default investment alternative notices; and
  • Other disclosures or notices required under Title I of ERISA.

Form 5500 filings

Under ERISA, retirement plans are required to file a Form 5500 by the end of the seventh month following the end of the plan year. Form 5500 filings that would have been due between April 1, 2020 and July 15, 2020 are now due on July 15, 2020 without the need to file for an extension. Calendar-year plan Form 5500 filings are still due on July 31, 2020 but may be extended to October 15, 2020 by filing for an extension using Form 5558.

Use of Electronic Disclosures Expanded

Retirement plan administrators may use alternative electronic methods — email, texts, website notices — to communicate with plan participants and beneficiaries during the COVID-19 period as long as the administrator has a reasonable belief that these individuals have access to electronic communications.

Fiduciary Relief for Retirement Plan Loans and Distributions

IRS guidance relieves plan fiduciaries of potential ERISA violations if they fail to follow procedural requirements for retirement plan loans or distributions as long as:

  • The failure can be solely attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • The plan administrator made a good faith effort to comply with ERISA procedural requirements; and
  • The plan administrator made a reasonable attempt to correct any procedural deficiencies as soon as practical.

Recent DOL guidance regarding participant contributions and loan repayments provides that a temporary delay in contributions or repayments to a retirement plan will not trigger enforcement action as long as:

  • The delay is due solely to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • The delay took place during the COVID-19 period; and
  • The plan sponsor forwards these payments as soon as practical.

Extension of Benefit Claims and Appeal Timetables

ERISA-prescribed timeframes for filing benefit claims or appealing denied claims may now be extended through the COVID-19 period. Although the guidance does not specifically address extending a fiduciary’s timeframe to decide a benefit claim or appeal, it is likely that notification of such decisions is also extended.

Our ERISA attorneys work with clients around the country to set up and monitor benefits plans, make changes as necessary based on business realities and changing laws, and help handle problems when they occur. Reach out today to learn more by calling 678-439-6236.

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Hall Benefits Law, LLC

HBL offers employers comprehensive legal guidance on benefits in mergers and acquisitions, Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), executive compensation, health and welfare benefits, healthcare reform, and retirement plans. We counsel a wide spectrum of clients including small, mid-sized, and large companies, 401(k) investment advisors, health insurance brokers, accountants, attorneys, and HR consultants, just to name a few. HBL is passionate about advising clients, and we are dedicated to our mission: to provide comprehensive, personalized, and practical ERISA and benefits legal solutions that exceed client expectations.

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