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U.S. COVID-19: Ring in the New Year with COVID-19 Relief for Health and Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts

Thanks to the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (the “Act”), employers with health flexible spending accounts (“HFSAs”) and dependent care flexible spending accounts (“DFSAs”) may adopt temporary liberalized rules to help reduce employees’ forfeitures during the pandemic.  The Act expands upon some of the prior relief provided under IRS Notice 2020-29 and temporarily relaxes certain standard HFSA and DFSA rules for the 2021 and 2022 Plan Years.

Employers will want to work through the new relief, determine what provisions to adopt, and communicate any changes in short order.

  • Increased Carry-Over Amounts
    • A cafeteria plan may allow for the carry-over of up to 100% of the unused HFSA and DFSA balances at the end of the 2020 and/or 2021 Plan Year(s) to the next Plan Year. Under the standard cafeteria plan rules, carry-overs are limited only to HFSAs.
    • Carried over amounts do not reduce the maximum annual HFSA or DFSA benefit amount a participant may elect for a Plan Year.
  • Extended Grace Period for Incurring Claims
    • Generally, a plan may allow a grace period of up to 2 ½ months following the end of a Plan Year during which participants can incur additional expenses to be paid or reimbursed from HFSA and DFSA amounts remaining at the end of the immediately preceding plan year. IRS Notice 2020-29 allowed employers to extend any HFSA and DFSA grace period ending in 2020 to December 31, 2020.
    • The Act permits employers to adopt a

BCLP Benefits Q3 Review: IRS, DOL, & PBGC Guidance

In this edition of our newsletter, we have summarized key third quarter guidance from the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor, and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. As we look back on the third quarter of 2020, there has been a noticeable shift at the federal level from a focus on guidance related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Congressional response in the first half of the year to a return to executing the regulatory agendas of the federal agencies and the priorities of President Trump’s administration. Despite this shift, federal agencies have continued to issue new, amended, or extended COVID-19 guidance as the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to evolve. We have, therefore, included both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 guidance in this newsletter and group the summaries by these categories.

Read the full newsletter by clicking here.

If you have any questions about a topic included in this newsletter, please contact a member of our Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group.

BCLP Benefits Mid-Year 2020 Newsletter: Q2 2020 COVID-19 and Additional Regulatory Guidance

July 21, 2020

Categories

In the second quarter of 2020, we have seen employers faced with continued challenges as they manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their businesses and begin the process of returning to normal operations. The flurry of regulatory guidance from governmental agencies responsible for employee benefit plan oversight that began earlier this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) also has continued unabated. In addition, the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service have also been busy releasing guidance unrelated to COVID-19.

In this newsletter, we have provided summaries of five of these items – three related to COVID-19 and the fifth summarizing the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) final electronic disclosure rule.  In addition to these longer summaries, we have also included short notes describing the additional guidance that has been released.

If you have any questions about a topic included in this newsletter, please contact a member of our Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group.

To read a copy of the newsletter, please click here.

Additional COVID-19 Extensions = Greater Administrative Headaches for Plan Sponsors

As any employer is keenly aware, the administration of an employee benefit plan (especially a group health plan) involves a number of different deadlines imposed under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code (Code).  Amidst concerns that the current COVID-19 pandemic may cause individuals to lose benefits due to the failure to meet certain pre-established deadlines and in recognition of the challenges group health plans may face in complying with certain notice obligations, the Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service (collectively, the “Agencies”) jointly published notice in the Federal Register of a significant extension in application of the following statutorily prescribed deadlines:

Special Enrollment Periods

  • 30-day deadline to request enrollment in the event of a loss of eligibility for other health coverage or the acquisition of a new dependent due to marriage, birth, adoption or placement for adoption
  • 60-day deadline to request enrollment in the event of either a loss of eligibility for coverage under Medicaid or a state children’s health insurance coverage (CHIP) or gaining eligibility for premium assistance through Medicaid or CHIP.

COBRA Continuation Coverage

  • 30-day period for employer to notify plan administrator of certain COBRA qualifying events
  • 14-day period for plan administrator to issue COBRA Election Notice to qualified beneficiary
  • 60-day period for qualified beneficiary to elect COBRA continuation coverage
  • 45-day period for qualified beneficiary to submit initial COBRA premium payment
  • 30-day period for qualified beneficiary to submit subsequent COBRA premium payments
  • Qualified beneficiary’s

COVID-19: Mid-Year Changes to 401(k) Plans

U.S. employers looking to reduce operating costs in the short term in response to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may seek to reduce or suspend their matching or nonelective contributions in their 401(k) plan. The following summarizes the key issues facing employers in making the determination to suspend or reduce safe-harbor contributions.

Suspending or Reducing Employer Contributions in Non-Safe-harbor Plans

Discretionary employer matching and nonelective contributions generally may be immediately suspended or reduced through appropriate corporation action.  Employers should consider the following in connection with a suspension or reduction of employer contributions:

  • Does the Plan have Discretionary Employer Contributions?

If the plan does not include provisions setting out a formula or specific amount of employer contributions, the board simply needs to take action to change the amount of the employer matching contribution, which could include suspending the contribution until the board takes further action.

  • Does The Plan have a Set Formula for Determining Matching or Nonelective Contributions?

If the retirement plan or related documents set out a formula for determining the employer contributions (that is, the amount of the contributions are “hard-wired” into the plan), the plan will need to be amended to change the formula.  Companies may also consider removing specific formulas entirely and replacing them with provisions stating that the amount of the employer nonelective or matching contributions is discretionary and will be determining by the board from time to time.

  • When may the Reduction or

CARES Act Expands U.S. Retirement Plan Access and Provides Additional Relief and Changes to Employer-Provided Benefits

The Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) provides legislative relief to participants impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic.  A summary of key provisions of the CARES Act, based on the current draft, is included below. These provisions are, of course, still subject to approval by both houses of Congress and the President’s signature.

Provisions Applicable to Retirement Plans

Coronavirus-Related Distributions

Tax-favored coronavirus-related distributions (“CRD’s) which do not exceed $100,000 will not be subject to the 10% early distribution tax.  A CRD means any distribution from a plan made on or after January 1, 2020 and before December 31, 2020 to an individual who is one of the following:

  • An individual who is diagnosed with COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2;
  • An individual whose spouse or dependent is diagnosed with COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2; or
  • An individual who experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, furloughed, laid off, experiencing a reduction of work hours, inability to work due to lack of child care caused by COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2, the closing or reduction of hours by a business owned or operated by such participant due to COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2, or other factors determined by the Treasury Secretary.

Notably, the plan administrator may rely on the individual’s certification that he/she has experienced a CRD.  Tax on the CRD shall, unless the individual elects to the contrary, be spread pro-rata over a three year period.  The individual may repay the CRD to the plan without regard to contribution

COVID-19 U.S.: Collected Employee Benefits Blog Posts

We have published a number of COVID-19/coronavirus related blog posts for our U.S. clients and friends over the past couple of weeks.  In an effort to consolidate the flurry of guidance and keep you up-to-date in these fast-changing circumstances, we are posting the links to all of our COVID-19 related blog posts here.  We will update the list below as additional blog posts are added.

  • IRS relief for high deductible health plans covering testing and treatment: click here
  • ERISA fiduciary responsibilities in an uncertain market: click here
  • HIPAA compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic: click here
  • Aggregated links to federal government guidance: click here
  • Compensation considerations fr public and private U.S. companies: click here
  • Emergency paid sick leave and family leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA): click here and here
  • Proposed legislative relief for participant access to retirement plan funds under the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act): click here
  • FFCRA paid sick and family leave tax credits for small employers: click here
  • FFCRA COVID-19 diagnostic testing mandate for most group health plans: click here
  • Providing employee assistance through interest-free loans: click here
  • Summary of the CARES Act retirement plan access and employer-sponsored health plan provisions: click here
  • Key Issues for employers

Families First Coronavirus Response Act Part 2 of 2: Impact on Employer Health Plans

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) enacted March 18 provides a combination of benefits to help U.S. employees during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Mandated benefits under employer health plans,
  • Paid sick leave benefits (up to 80 hours) – click here for our discussion of the paid sick leave benefits,
  • FMLA benefits (up to 12 weeks with a combination of paid and unpaid leave) – click here for our discussion of the FMLA benefits,
  • Tax benefits to ease the cost to certain small employers of providing health care coverage under the newly expanded sick leave and FMLA benefits noted above click here for a discussion of the FMLA benefits – click here for our discussion of the small employer tax credits.

The following is a summary of the mandated benefits COVID-19 testing requirements applicable to employer health plans.

COVID-19 Diagnostic Testing Coverage Requirements

Most group health plans[1] and group insurance coverage are required to cover COVID-19 testing related items and services without imposing any cost sharing (including deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance) or prior authorization or medical management requirements. The following is a summary of the key points of the FFCRA requirement:

  1. Coverage of Diagnostic Items and Services without Cost-Sharing. The specific items and services to which the coverage mandate applies include:
    1. “In vitro diagnostic products”[2] used for the detection of SARS–CoV–2 or diagnosis of the virus that causes COVID–19

Families First Coronavirus Response Act Part 1 of 2: Small Employer Tax Credits

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA“) generally requires U.S. employers with fewer than 500 employees (“Small Employers”) to provide paid sick leave and additional FMLA benefits to their employees.[1] You can read our summary of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act here and here, respectively.

In order to offset some of the costs these provisions impose on Small Employers, the FFCRA also provides a quarterly payroll tax credit equal to 100% of the qualified sick and leave wages paid to employees under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act.

The amount of leave wages taken into account is limited with respect to each individual employee for purposes of the credit.

  • For sick leave wages paid due to an employee’s illness or quarantine, the amount of wages taken into account for purposes of the credit is capped at $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate for each employee; and
  • For sick leave wages paid due to an employee’s need to care for others or care for the employee’s child(ren) due to school closures[2], the amount of wages taken into account for purposes of the credit is capped is $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate for each employee. Sick leave wages under the FFCRA are available for a maximum of 2 weeks (10 days).

Guidance on Employee Benefits and the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As the Coronavirus has continued to spread, there has been guidance from various entities on a myriad of topics pertaining to employee benefits. Summaries and links to such guidance can be found below. This information will be updated regularly as more guidance becomes available.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): The Office for Civil Rights, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, published a bulletin outlining privacy of protected health information and when covered entities may disclose such information without a patient’s authorization. Covered entities may be able to disclose needed protected health information without individual authorization to public health authorities, to persons at risk of contracting or spreading a disease, or to prevent a serious and imminent threat, among other limited circumstances. Covered entities must make reasonable efforts to limit the information disclosed to that which is the minimum necessary to accomplish the purpose. In a prior post, we provided a review of the bulletin and ongoing HIPAA obligations for covered entities.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The U.S. Department of Labor released a Q&A addressing various questions about employee rights and employer responsibilities under the FMLA. Eligible employees are typically entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a designated 12-month period due to their own illness or that of a family member. Covered employers must continue to abide by federal FMLA laws as well

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