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DOL Issues Relief for Plan Fiduciaries

The DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (“EBSA”) recently issued EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01. Notice 2020-01 applies to employee benefit plans, employers, labor organizations, and other plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries, participants and beneficiaries, and service providers subject to ERISA. Notice 2020-01 remains in effect from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announcement of the end of the presidentially declared national emergency due to COVID-19 (the “National Emergency”). Untimely Notice Relief Fiduciaries of ERISA plans generally have an obligation to provide notices and disclosures in accordance with the timing requirements of ERISA. However, under Notice 2020-01, the employee benefit plan and the responsible plan fiduciary will not be considered to violate ERISA for failing to timely furnish a notice, disclosure, or document that must be furnished between March 1, 2020 and 60 days after the announced end of the National Emergency, if the plan and responsible fiduciary act in… Continue Reading

2019 FSA Claims Submission Deadlines Suspended

Many employer-sponsored flexible spending arrangements (“FSAs”) have a claims submission deadline in March 2020 for the 2019 plan year. Some FSA vendors have contacted employers about extending those claims submission deadlines to later in the summer because participants could be delayed in submitting claims due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Generally, claims submission deadlines are set by plan design and are not regulated. However, the U.S. Departments of Labor and Treasury recently issued a notice suspending the deadline for submitting claims under all employee welfare benefit plans and employee pension benefit plans. The time period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the end of the national emergency or other date announced by the government (“Outbreak Period”) is disregarded in determining whether the deadline to submit a claim was met. The notice did not specifically address how the suspended deadlines are supposed to work for FSAs. Arguably, if the deadline… Continue Reading

Employers Take Note of Suspended COBRA Deadlines due to COVID-19

The U.S. Departments of Labor and the Treasury recently issued a joint notice promulgating final rules that take effect immediately upon publication in the Federal Register (the “Notice”). The Notice suspends a number of deadlines for employer-sponsored, group health plans, including deadlines under COBRA. The extension period is from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the federal government announces the end of the COVID-19 national emergency or other date announced by the DOL (the “Outbreak Period”). The Outbreak Period is disregarded in determining whether the following COBRA deadlines have been met: (i) the date by which an individual must notify the plan of a COBRA qualifying event or disability determination, (ii) the 60-day period to elect COBRA coverage, and (iii) the deadline to make COBRA premium payments. Group health plans were also offered relief via the suspension of the deadline for providing COBRA election notices to COBRA qualified beneficiaries.… Continue Reading

Extension of Certain Timeframes for Employee Benefit Plans

On April 29, 2020, the U.S. Departments of Labor and the Treasury (together, the “Departments”) issued a notice (the “Notice”) requiring that all group health plans, disability and other types of employee welfare benefit plans, and employee pension benefit plans, subject to ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code, must disregard the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency or such other date as announced by the Departments in a future notice (the “Outbreak Period”) for the following periods and dates: The 30-day period (or 60-day period, if applicable) to request HIPAA special enrollment; The 60-day election period for COBRA continuation coverage; The date for making COBRA premium payments; The date for individuals to notify the plan of a COBRA qualifying event or determination of disability; The date within which individuals may file a benefit claim under the plan’s claims procedures;… Continue Reading

SBC Relief for COVID-19 Coverage or Telehealth Changes to Group Health Plans

Generally, if an employer-sponsored group health plan makes a material modification to coverage midyear that would affect the content of the plan’s Summary of Benefits and Coverage (“SBC”), the plan administrator must provide participants with 60 days’ prior notice of the modification. The U.S. Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services have issued a FAQ stating that they will not take any enforcement action against any plan for not providing such notice when the modification is to provide greater coverage related to the diagnosis and/or treatment of COVID-19 or to add benefits or reduce or eliminate cost sharing for telehealth and other remote care services. However, the plan administrator must still provide notice of the changes to participants as soon as reasonably practicable. This non-enforcement policy only applies while there is a public health emergency declaration or national emergency declaration related to COVID-19 in effect. The FAQs are… Continue Reading

Employee Benefits as Payroll Costs under the Paycheck Protection Program

Businesses that received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) are eligible for forgiveness of that loan if, among other things, the loan proceeds are used to cover “payroll costs” incurred over the eight-week period after the loan is made. Payroll costs, capped at $100,000 on an annualized basis for each employee (i.e., $15,384 over the eight-week period), are broadly defined to include, among other things: Salary, wages, commissions, or tips; Employee benefits costs, such as for vacation or paid family or medical leave (other than wages for which a credit is received under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act), group health care costs, retirement plan contributions, and severance benefits; and State and local taxes assessed on employee compensation. As of the date of this posting, no guidance has been issued by the IRS or the Department of Treasury to further clarify what specific items qualify as payroll costs.… Continue Reading

Health and Welfare Issues and COVID-19: Reminder: Decrease in Pay/Hours Does Not Permit Dropping Health Plan Coverage If There is No Loss of Eligibility

As many employers reduce employees’ work hours, employers should consider that employees will remain responsible for their health plan contributions even though their pay is decreasing. As long as eligibility for coverage does not change, an employee is not permitted to change his or her health plan elections due solely to the decrease in pay or hours. One exception to this general rule is a change in status event created in connection with the Affordable Care Act, which provides that, in certain circumstances, an employee with reduced work hours may drop health plan coverage if the employee enrolls in other health plan coverage. Because the reduced pay may not cover all payroll deductions, employers should consider adopting a priority order for payroll deductions (e.g., health plan deductions are made before 401(k) plan deductions). In addition, an employer may want to consider a waiver of premiums, which is permitted if done… Continue Reading

Retirement Benefit Expenses Covered under the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program

The Paycheck Protection Program (the “PPP”) under the CARES Act aims to assist small businesses affected by COVID-19 by covering certain operating expenses as an incentive to retain employees during the crisis. Expenses, such as “payroll costs,” are used in the calculation of the amount of the available loan and in the amount that may be forgiven under the program. Notably, the PPP does not consider an individual’s compensation in excess of $100,000 annualized, prorated for the covered period, to be covered as a payroll cost. The “payment of any retirement benefit[s]” are among the payroll costs that are included. However, at this time, it not entirely clear what is intended to be included in the “payment of any retirement benefit.” No formal guidance has been issued by the IRS or Treasury, and initial guidance issued by the U.S. Small Business Administration does not shed much light on this question.… Continue Reading

COVID-19 Puerto Rico Tax Exemptions for Employer Payments and Changes to Puerto Rico Qualified Plans

The Puerto Rico Treasury Department (“Puerto Rico Treasury”) issued Internal Revenue Circular Letter (“CC RI”) 20-22 to offer tax exemptions for certain employer-provided payments for COVID-19. Specifically: CC RI 20-22 extends the provisions of CC RI 20-08, which provides income tax exemptions for “Qualified Payments Made for Disaster Assistance” (“Qualified Payments”) made by employers to employees and independent contractors, to include certain payments made as a result of the COVID-19 emergency. Qualified Payments must: (i) be made be during the period from February 1, 2020 to April 30, 2020; (ii) be in addition to the compensation that the employee or contractor ordinarily receives; (iii) not discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees; (iv) not be attributable to or related to the position or salary of the employee or independent contractor; and (v) be limited to maximum payments of $2,000 per month and $4,000 in total (including both Qualified Payments made… Continue Reading

Agencies Update Group Health Plan Required Disclosure Documents

Federal agencies recently issued updated versions of certain documents that are required to be disclosed to individuals under applicable employer-sponsored group health plans. A set of FAQs regarding the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) was issued by the federal Departments of Labor (“DOL”), Health and Human Services (“HHS”), and Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”), which describe recent changes made by the Departments to the “summary of benefits and coverage” template under the ACA (“SBC”). Among other minor changes to the SBC, certain verbiage on the SBC and the associated uniform glossary were revised to reflect the prior elimination, as of January 1, 2019, of the tax penalty related to an individual’s failure to comply with the so-called “individual mandate” under the ACA. The FAQs also provide additional guidance regarding the updated SBC coverage examples calculator that was released by HHS late last year. The revised SBC and SBC coverage examples calculator each… Continue Reading

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