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DOL Guidance on COVID-19 Relief for Employee Benefit Plans

On Feb. 26, 2021, the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) issued Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01 to provide guidance on the duration of the COVID-19-related relief regarding certain employee benefit plan deadlines during the Outbreak Period.

The relief requires employers to disregard the Outbreak Period when enforcing certain employee benefit plan deadlines and gives plan sponsors additional time to distribute plan notices and disclosures. Under federal law, this period cannot exceed one year. Because the Outbreak Period began on March 1, 2020, the relief was expected to expire on Feb. 28, 2021. However, this guidance allows the relief to extend beyond this date in some situations.

Application of the One-year Limit

The DOL Notice interprets the one-year limit on the relief related to the Outbreak Period to begin on the date the action would otherwise have been required in a given situation. Specifically, individuals and plans will have the applicable periods disregarded until the earlier of:

  • One year from the date they were first eligible for relief; or
  • 60 days after the announced end of the National Emergency (the end of the Outbreak Period). On the applicable date, the time frames for individuals and plans with periods that were previously disregarded will resume. In no case will a disregarded period exceed one year.

Outbreak Period Guidance

  • Began on March 1, 2020.
  • Continues until 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency (or other date announced in a future notification).
  • By law, cannot exceed one year.
  • Separate from the public health emergency declared by the Department of Health and Human Services, which expires after 90 days unless an extension is issued. The most recent extension lasts through April 20, 2021.

Plan administrators should continue to make reasonable accommodations to prevent the loss of or delay in payment of benefits.

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