DOL Issues New COVID-19 Relief for Benefit Plans

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

April 30, 2020

The US Department of Labor (DOL) has issued deadline relief and other guidance to aid employers, employee benefit plans, plan participants and other service providers affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

The DOL notice, issued jointly with the Treasury Department and the IRS, extends certain time frames for participants' rights to health care coverage, continuation of group health plan coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) and other benefits. It gives laid-off and furloughed workers more time to sign up for health coverage and gives plan administrators extra time to file needed paperwork to provide flexibility.

Under the joint rule, plans must disregard the "outbreak period" from March 1, 2020, until 60 days after the announced end of the national public health emergency, or any other date that may be announced in a future notice, when determining specified limitations periods and dates.

In addition, plans and responsible plan fiduciaries will not be treated as having violated ERISA under a disaster relief notice issued by the DOL's Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) "so long as they make a good faith effort to furnish the documents as soon as administratively practicable."

Good faith includes using electronic communication with plan participants and beneficiaries who the plan fiduciary reasonably believes have access to these means of communication, including:

  • Email;
  • Text messages; and
  • Continuous access websites.

The DOL also issued a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on health benefit and retirement benefit issues to help those impacted by COVID-19 to understand their rights and responsibilities under ERISA. Included among these FAQs are the following:

  • If my place of employment temporarily closes because of the COVID-19 outbreak, am I still covered by my employer's group health plan? As long as the employer exists, continues to sponsor a health plan, and employs you, and you continue to meet your employer's eligibility requirements, you would generally remain covered under your existing health plan, even if the employer's physical location closes.
  • My employer's place of business is temporarily closed because of the COVID-19 outbreak. I cannot contact my plan administrator or the claims administrator. Who do I contact to file a claim for benefits, or to obtain replacement identification documents? Many employers affected by the COVID-19 outbreak may provide special ways for employees to contact them during the outbreak. Your employer should be able to give you the name of the person to contact to obtain claim forms or other documents. If you cannot locate a contact person for your employer, you may contact one of our benefits advisors for help at or 1-866-444-3272.