The Department of Labor (DOL) has now finalized its October 2019 proposal (described in our previous blog) to create a new “safe harbor” for the electronic distribution of ERISA-required notices and disclosures. The final regulation establishes a new, voluntary safe harbor for retirement plan administrators who want to use electronic media, as a default, to furnish covered documents to participants and beneficiaries, rather than providing paper documents through mail or hand delivery. The new safe harbor permits electronic delivery by either (i) posting covered documents on the plan sponsor’s website, if appropriate notification of internet availability is furnished to the participant’s electronic address, or (ii) sending the documents directly to the participant’s electronic address, with the covered document either in the body of the e-mail or as an attachment thereto. Although the final rule is not effective until 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register, the DOL has indicated that it will not take any enforcement action against a plan administrator that relies on the safe harbor before that date.
Reporting and Disclosure
The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration issued guidance on April 28, 2020, providing temporary, coronavirus-related relief from many deadlines and requirements under ERISA. Notably, the guidance relaxes the standards for employers to provide notices electronically, and affords significant latitude to COBRA qualified beneficiaries for electing, and paying for, COBRA continuation coverage.
As we are all now intimately aware, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the nature of the workplace, and all of the benefits, rights, and responsibilities arising out of employment. We are operating under a new set of rules, and those rules are changing daily. Employers’ efforts to manage their workforce in order to maintain fiscal viability while protecting the health of employees also affect benefits. The cascading effect of these factors raises many thorny benefits questions. We will summarize – and attempt to answer – a few of those questions here (based on the legal landscape as of March 31, 2020).
In Notice 2019-63, the IRS has granted health insurers and large employers 30 more days to issue the appropriate 2019 ACA-reporting forms to their insureds and full-time employees. Rather than January 31, 2020, these Forms 1095-B and 1095-C will now be due by March 2, 2020. The IRS has also extended the “good-faith” standard for compliance with these reporting rules. Finally, in view of the zeroing out of the penalty for failing to comply with the ACA’s individual mandate, insurers and large employers will now have an additional compliance option.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed a new “safe harbor” rule to allow retirement plan disclosures to be posted online (assuming certain notice requirements are satisfied) to reduce printing and mailing expenses for plan sponsors and to make the disclosures more readily accessible and useful for plan participants.
The Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) imposed reporting requirements on health coverage providers (including self-funded employer plans) and “applicable large employers” (those with 50 or more full-time employees). For health coverage provided during both 2015 and 2016, the IRS extended the deadline for issuing certain of the required reporting forms. In Notice 2018-06, the IRS has now granted a similar extension with respect to reporting health coverage provided during calendar-year 2017.
As explained in our December 19, 2016, article, the 21st Century Cures Act allows small employers (those that are not subject to the Affordable Care Act’s “play-or-pay” requirements because they have fewer than 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalents) to offer their employees a premium reimbursement arrangement that would otherwise violate the ACA. By establishing a “qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement” (or “QSEHRA”), such an employer may subsidize its employees’ purchase of individual health insurance coverage. In its recent Notice 2017-20, the IRS has granted these employers additional time to comply with the QSEHRA notification requirement.
A recent IRS Chief Counsel Memorandum (AM 2017-01) raises the stakes for employers that fail to apply the proper FICA taxation rules to nonqualified deferred compensation. An option previously available to those employers has been taken off the table. Under this option – which required a formal “Closing Agreement” with the IRS – both employer and employee FICA taxes could be minimized by voluntarily paying those taxes for years as to which IRS assessments were otherwise barred under the Tax Code’s three-year statute of limitations. Without this correction option, employers have an even greater incentive to apply the proper FICA taxation rules to their deferred compensation arrangements.
The Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) imposed additional reporting requirements on health coverage providers (including self-funded employer plans) and “applicable large employers” (those with 50 or more full-time employees). In Notice 2016-70, the IRS has granted coverage providers and employers 30 more days to issue the appropriate ACA-reporting forms to their insureds and full-time employees for coverage provided during 2016. Rather than January 31, 2017, these Forms 1095-B and 1095-C will now be due by March 2, 2017. In addition, the IRS has extended by one year the period of “good-faith compliance” with these reporting rules. As of now, however, the IRS has not extended the deadline for coverage providers and employers to transmit these ACA-reporting forms to the IRS.
In a belated Christmas present, the IRS on December 28th extended the deadlines for large employers and health insurers to comply with certain reporting requirements imposed by the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). Notice 2016-4 grants an additional two months to provide statements to employees, and an additional three months to transmit those statements to the IRS.
At some point, as electronic communication becomes the norm – and as paper virtually disappears from the workplace – we will surely see a softening of the conditions imposed by the Department of Labor (“DOL”) on the electronic distribution of summary plan descriptions (“SPDs”). But a recent decision by a New York federal court confirms that we are not yet at that point.