As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ("CARES") Act, Section 518 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA") was amended to allow the Department of Labor ("DOL") to extend ERISA-related compliance deadlines in the event of a public health emergency. Through this expanded authority, the DOL issued Notice 2020-01 (to be discussed in a subsequent blog) and, with the Departments of Treasury and Health and Human Services ("HHS"), issued joint regulations requiring that several compliance deadlines be determined without regard to the "Outbreak Period," which began March 1, 2020, and will continue until 60 days after the COVID-19-related public health emergency is formally declared to be over.
Pursuant to the joint regulations, the Outbreak Period must be disregarded when applying the following ERISA-related compliance deadlines:
|COBRA Employer Notice||The 30-day period for an employer to notify a plan administrator of a qualifying event.|
|COBRA Election Notice||The 14-day period for the plan administrator to provide the COBRA election notice.|
|COBRA Employee Notice of Qualifying Event or Disability Determination|
|COBRA Election Notice|
|COBRA Initial Premium Deadline|
|COBRA Premium Grace Period|
|HIPAA Special Enrollment|
|Internal Claims and Appeals Deadlines|
|External Review Deadlines|
When determining how the Outbreak Period impacts a compliance deadline, employers and plan administrators should carefully consider the facts and circumstances of each situation and consult with benefits counsel as needed. Additionally, although employers and plan administrators were given some relief (e.g., sending COBRA notices), the DOL cautioned that fiduciary principles should be followed. Therefore, plan fiduciaries should act reasonably, prudently, and in the best interests of covered individuals and beneficiaries.