DOL Issues Compliance Guidance for Employee Benefit Plans Impacted by Hurricane Harvey
By Danielle Capilla, Chief Compliance Officer, United Benefit Advisors
The DOL issued guidance for employee benefit plans, plan sponsors, and employers located in a county identified for individual assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) due to Hurricane Harvey.
Because plan participants and beneficiaries may have difficulty meeting deadlines for filing ERISA benefit claims and making COBRA elections, the DOL advised plan sponsors to "act reasonably, prudently, and in the interest of the workers and their families who rely on their health plans for their physical and economic well-being. Plan fiduciaries should make reasonable accommodations to prevent the loss of benefits in such cases and should take steps to minimize the possibility of individuals losing benefits because of a failure to comply with pre-established timeframes."
The DOL acknowledged that group health plans may not be able to timely and fully comply with deadlines due to a physical disruption to a plan's principal place of business. The DOL's enforcement approach will emphasize compliance assistance, including grace periods and other relief as appropriate.