Internal Revenue Service Extends Temporary Relief from the Physical Presence Requirement by One Year

The IRS recently issued Notice 2021-40, providing a one-year extension through June 30, 2022, of the temporary relief from the physical presence requirement for certain plan elections (including spousal consents) required to be witnessed by a plan representative or notary public. Issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS provided initial relief from the physical presence requirement for the period beginning January 1, 2020 and ending December 1, 2020, and then provided initial extended relief through June 30, 2021.

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DOL Issues Model COBRA Subsidy Notices and Initial Guidance on COBRA Subsidy Relief under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

As discussed in our prior blog post, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) requires employers that sponsor group health plans to provide a 100% COBRA subsidy for “Assistance Eligible Individuals” during the “Subsidy Period” (April 1 through September 30, 2021, or the date the participant is no longer an Assistance Eligible Individual, if earlier) and to offer a COBRA special election opportunity for certain individuals to enroll in COBRA coverage in order to receive the benefit of the COBRA subsidy.

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IRS Clarifies Pandemic-Related Relief for Dependent Care FSAs

As noted in our prior blog posts here and here, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (the “Act”) includes several types of relief for flexible spending accounts (“FSAs”), impacting both health and dependent care FSAs.  In February, the IRS issued Notice 2021-15 (the “Notice”), which provides clarifying guidance with respect to the Act’s FSA relief provisions and answers many of the outstanding questions posed by employers following the Act’s passage.  Our prior blog post answers common questions about how the guidance applies to health FSA benefits. Below we describe the key changes in the Act and the Notice (together, the “Relief”) specific to dependent care FSAs.

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COVID-related Benefit Plan Timeframe Extension Relief Continues With One Year Case-by-case Limit

As described in a prior blog post, last spring the Department of Labor and the Department of the Treasury (Agencies) issued COVID-19 pandemic relief that extended numerous deadlines under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code (Code) applicable to group health plans, retirement plans, and other ERISA benefit plans, as well as participants in those plans (Extension Relief).  Specifically, the Extension Relief stated that, subject to a one-year statutory limitation imposed by ERISA Section 518 and Code Section 7508A, all deadlines for benefit plan actions identified in the Extension Relief (Deadlines) would be put on hold for the period beginning March 1, 2020 and ending 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency (Outbreak Period). President Biden extended the National Emergency on February 24, 2021 and the end date is, at this time, unknown.

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Rehiring Employees by March 31, 2021 Could Prevent Partial Plan Terminations

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, enacted on December 27, 2020 (the CAA), includes limited relief pertaining to the partial termination of a qualified retirement plan that may have been inadvertently triggered by employer-initiated severances during the COVID-19 pandemic. Generally, as discussed further in our May 2020 post, the determination as to whether a partial plan termination has occurred depends on the facts and circumstances; however, there is a rebuttable presumption of a partial plan termination if, during the applicable period, the employee turnover rate is at least 20 percent. The employee turnover rate is the number of participating employees who had an employer-initiated severance divided by the total number of participating employees. A partial plan termination triggers 100% vesting for affected participants.

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The Clock Is Ticking: DOL Issued Interim Final Rule on Lifetime Income Disclosures for Defined Contribution Plans

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act included several provisions related to lifetime income strategies under retirement plans, including a requirement that pension benefit statements for defined contribution plans disclose the “lifetime income stream equivalent” of each participant’s current account balance – both as a single life annuity (SLA) and as a qualified joint and survivor annuity (QJSA). On August 18, 2020, the Department of Labor (Department) issued an interim final rule implementing this requirement that includes a model disclosure and assumptions for converting benefits (the Rule), and a fact sheet.

As background, under ERISA, administrators of defined contribution plans (such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans) are required to provide pension benefit statements quarterly if the plan allows participant-directed investment, otherwise annually. Among other requirements, the benefit statements must include the participant’s current account balance.

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Temporary Relief from “Physical Presence” Requirement for Participant Elections

On June 3, 2020, the Treasury Department issued Notice 2020-42 providing temporary relief from the requirement for a plan representative or notary public to be physically present to witness certain participant elections (including spousal consents), which has been exceptionally difficult to satisfy while following COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidelines.

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DOL Issues New Rules on Electronic Disclosure

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued final regulations that provide an additional safe harbor method of satisfying the ERISA electronic disclosure requirements for retirement plans (note, these rules do not apply to welfare plans). The final regulations will allow employers to post retirement plan disclosures online or deliver them by email.

The new electronic disclosure regulations will be published in the Federal Register on May 27, 2020; for your convenience, we have provided an unpublished copy here.

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CARES Act Brings Much-Needed Relief (and New Obligations) for Benefit Plans

As people across the country react to the quickly changing COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed another piece of legislation providing guidance and relief on a variety of issues — the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020. This article includes brief summaries of what employers should know about key benefits-related components of the CARES Act. Plan sponsors should review their plans to assess the impact of these changes and take appropriate steps to implement the changes (some of which are required).

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Benefit Plan FAQs on COVID-19 Part 4

HIPAA in the Time of Coronavirus

Group health plans and other entities covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) should consider the bulletin released by the Department of Health and Human Services (Bulletin) as a reminder that their HIPAA obligations continue to apply even during a public health emergency, such as the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

The Bulletin reiterates the circumstances under which HIPAA currently permits an individual’s protected health information (PHI) to be used and disclosed in an emergency situation and those circumstances applicable to group health plans are generally discussed below. Plan sponsors may want to review their group health plan’s use and disclosure procedures to confirm these permitted exceptions are correctly included.

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