The U.S. Department of Labor has issued compliance guidance for benefit plans, employers and employees, and service providers who are impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The guidance generally provides relief from various ERISA requirements and time limits for entities in the disaster area. This follows the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announcement extending certain filing dates, including Form 5500.
Key excerpts from the DOL guidance include:
“The Department recognizes that some employers and service providers acting on employers’ behalf, such as payroll processing services, located in identified covered disaster areas will not be able to forward participant payments and withholdings to employee pension benefit plans within the prescribed timeframe. In such instances, the Department will not–solely on the basis of a failure attributable to Hurricane Harvey–seek to enforce the provisions of Title I with respect to a temporary delay in the forwarding of such payments or contributions to an employee pension benefit plan to the extent that affected employers, and service providers, act reasonably, prudently and in the interest of employees to comply as soon as practical under the circumstances….
“With respect to blackout periods related to Hurricane Harvey, the Department will not allege a violation of the blackout notice requirements solely on the basis that a fiduciary did not make the required written determination….
“The Department recognizes that plan participants and beneficiaries may encounter an array of problems due to the hurricane, such as difficulties meeting certain deadlines for filing benefit claims and COBRA elections. The guiding principle for plans must be to act reasonably, prudently and in the interest of the workers and their families who rely on their health plans for their physical and economic well-being. Plan fiduciaries should make reasonable accommodations to prevent the loss of benefits in such cases and should take steps to minimize the possibility of individuals losing benefits because of a failure to comply with pre-established timeframes.”
The DOL also released FAQs for Participants and Beneficiaries Following Hurricane Harvey. The eight-page FAQ covers issues regarding health plan claims, COBRA continuation coverage, and collecting retirement plan benefits.
ThinkHR will continue to monitor issues affecting employers impacted by Hurricane Harvey.