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.

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