Retirement plan officials will have more time to furnish benefit statements, annual funding notices, and other notices and disclosures required by ERISA "so long as they make a good-faith effort to furnish the documents as soon as administratively practicable," according to a relief notice filed Wednesday by the Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration.
The notice, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, indicates that "good faith" includes the use of electronic alternative means of communicating with plan participants and beneficiaries who the plan fiduciary reasonably believes have effective access to those types of communication, including email, text messages and continuous-access websites.
The Labor Department said it recognizes that some employers and service providers might not be able to forward participant payments and withholdings to employee pension benefit plans within prescribed time frames during the coronavirus pandemic. "In such instances, the department will not — solely on the basis of a failure attributable to the COVID-19 outbreak — take enforcement action with respect to a temporary delay in forwarding such payments or contributions to the plan," it stated in the notice. "Employers and service providers must act reasonably, prudently, and in the interest of employees to comply as soon as administratively practicable under the circumstances."
With respect to loans and distributions, the notice said if an employee pension benefit plan fails to follow procedural requirements imposed by the terms of its plan, the Labor Department will not treat it as a failure if the reasons are "solely attributable to the COVID-19 outbreak; the plan administrator makes a good-faith diligent effort under the circumstances to comply with those requirements; and the plan administrator makes a reasonable attempt to correct any procedural deficiencies, such as assembling any missing documentation, as soon as administratively practicable."