In recent years, it has become the norm for the IRS to respond to a federally declared disaster by issuing guidance enabling employers to establish “Leave Donation Programs,” which allow employees to “convert” accrued vacation, sick, or personal leave benefits into an employer-paid monetary donation to a charitable relief organization, without the employee being taxed on the value of donated leave.1 Therefore, it is not surprising, but certainly welcome, that the IRS recently issued Notice 2020-46 (the Notice) to allow employers to adopt the same type of employer-based Leave Donation Programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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.
As described in our May 1 blog post, the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently issued guidance (the “Extension Guidance”) providing relief to benefit plan sponsors and participants for complying with certain deadline and notice requirements under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code (“Code”). One piece of the Extension Guidance, EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01 (the “Notice”) focuses specifically on ERISA retirement plan obligations, including ERISA-required notices, ERISA rules for retirement plan loans, and ERISA timing requirements for remitting participant contributions to retirement plan trusts. This alert describes in more detail the relief in the Notice and implications for plan sponsors.
For the full alert, visit the Faegre Drinker website.
As of the date of this post, there has been no legislation or IRS guidance allowing plan sponsors to permit cafeteria plan participants to make COVID-19 related mid-year election changes, other than those which also meet the current requirements of the employer’s cafeteria plan and applicable law. However, employers may find themselves faced with an increase in employee requests to change their cafeteria plan elections in response to employees’ rapidly changing circumstances in light of COVID-19.
The table below highlights a few of the mid-year election change requests anticipated as employees and employers respond to the social distancing and economic impact of COVID-19. Plan sponsors should confirm that their plan is not more restrictive than the general mid-year election changes permitted by law which are described here, and as with any mid-year election change request, a change is permitted only when it is consistent with the event and the terms of the plan.
COVID-19 and Leave-Sharing Plans
In these difficult times, some employees may want to donate some of their accrued paid-time off, vacation, or leave to help other employees take leave to recover from COVID-19 or to care for family members with COVID-19. This can be accomplished through a “Leave-Sharing Plan” set up by their employer.
Under normal tax rules, the leave donation would have to be treated as an assignment of income that is taxable to the employee donating the leave. However, the IRS allows such a donation to be made on a tax-free basis if it is done pursuant to a Leave-Sharing Plan that meets IRS requirements for a “Medical Leave-Sharing Plan” or a “Major Disaster Leave-Sharing Plan.” Note that in both types of plans, the employee who receives the donated leave will be taxed on the pay for the donated leave.
IRS Guidance Related to Coronavirus Testing/Treatment for HDHPs/HSAs
Last week, the IRS issued guidance confirming that high-deductible health plans with health savings accounts can provide coronavirus testing and treatment at no cost to participants without affecting eligibility for health savings accounts. Without this guidance, any non-preventive services provided to such participants before meeting their plan deductible would have disqualified the participants from health savings account eligibility. This guidance is welcome, as employers attempt to remove obstacles to testing and treatment for coronavirus.