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Agencies Issue Highly Anticipated COVID-19 Relief for Employee Benefit Plans

On April 28, 2020, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (“EBSA”) of the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) and the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) (collectively “the Agencies”) issued a joint notice announcing extensions for certain deadlines applicable to group health plans during the COVID-19 pandemic (“Joint Notice”).

In addition, EBSA released the Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01, which provides relief for employee benefit plans from certain disclosure and reporting deadlines imposed under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”).


Joint Notice from the Agencies

The Joint Notice from the Agencies provides extensions to comply with certain deadlines affecting COBRA continuation coverage, special enrollment periods, claims for benefits, appeals of denied claims, and external review of claims required by group health plans subject to ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code.

Group health plans must disregard the period from March 1, 2020, until sixty (60) days after the announced end of the National Emergency, or such other date announced by the Agencies in a future notice.  This period is referred to as the “Outbreak Period.”

Specifically, the guidance provides relief to plan participants, beneficiaries, qualified beneficiaries, or claimants during the Outbreak Period, in determining the following periods and dates, including:

  • The 30-day period (or 60-day period, if applicable) to request HIPAA special enrollment;
  • The 30 or 60-day deadline for employers or individuals to notify the plan of a qualifying event;
  • The 60-day deadline for individuals to notify the plan of a determination of disability;
  • The 14-day deadline for plan administrators to furnish COBRA election notices;
  • The 60-day deadline for participants to elect COBRA; and
  • The 45-day deadline in which to make a first premium payment, and 30-day deadline for subsequent premium payments;
  • The date within which individuals may file a benefit claim under a plan’s claims procedure;
  • The date within which claimants may file an appeal of an adverse benefit determination under a plan’s claims procedure;
  • The date within which claimants may file a request for an external review after receipt of an adverse benefit determination or final internal adverse benefit determination; and
  • The date within which a claimant may file information to perfect a request for external review.


Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01

The Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01 (the “Disaster Notice”) provides greatly anticipated guidance for employee benefit plans, employers, plan sponsors and fiduciaries, and service providers subject to ERISA requirements, for the duration of the Outbreak Period (as defined above).


Certain Required Disclosures Relief

The Disaster Notice provides that failure to timely furnish certain ERISA required notices, disclosures, or documents during this pandemic will not be considered a violation so long as the plan and plan fiduciary act in good faith to furnish such notice, disclosure, or document as soon as is reasonably practicable considering the circumstances.

Covered documents include but are not limited to summary plan descriptions, summaries of material modification, blackout notices, and responses to requests for plan documents.

Good faith efforts include the use of electronic means of distribution and communication with participants and beneficiaries, so long as the plan sponsor had reason to believe the participant could access the notice electronically.


Form 5500 and Form M-1 Filing Deadline Relief

Form 5500 Annual Return/Report filing relief is provided in accordance with guidance published by the Treasury Department and the IRS, which provides that filings otherwise due on or after April 1 and before July 15, 2020, are now due July 15, 2020.

An extension beyond July 15, 2020, is still available, using Form 5558, but the 2-1/2 month extension period will be measured from the regular due date rather than July 15.

Relief does not extend the deadline for 2019 calendar year plans.

These plans may obtain a regular extension by timely filing Form 5558.

Form M-1 filings required for multiple employer welfare arrangements and certain entities claiming exceptions are provided the same relief applicable to the Form 5500.



The guiding principle for plans must be to act reasonably, prudently, and in the interest of the covered workers and their families who rely on their health, retirement, and other employee benefit plans.

Employers and plan administrators need to be sure every staff member who might be contacted by a participant about benefits is aware of these new rules and need to take the necessary steps to implement the rules, including working with any plan service providers to ensure compliance.

The content herein is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not contain legal advice.  Please contact our office if you have any questions about compliance requirements applicable to your employee benefit plans or other HR compliance matters.