As Hurricane Harvey continues to inflict historic devastation in Texas, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and US Department of Labor (DOL) have issued guidance for employers, plans, service providers, and participants affected by the storm. Much of the relief outlined in the guidance comes in the form of filing and payment extensions, as well as a general stance on delayed, limited, or non-enforcement for certain compliance failures attributable to Hurricane Harvey.
The guidance focuses on employee benefit plan compliance for those impacted by the hurricane. With respect to group health plans, the guidance indicates that the DOL’s enforcement approach will focus on compliance assistance and not the issuance of penalties where appropriate. The DOL recognizes that physical disruptions to an employer’s or plan administrator’s place of business may make compliance difficult or impossible for those entities.
The guidance also highlights situations where individuals may not be able to make certain filing and election deadlines due to the storm. Because participants and beneficiaries rely on their receipt of health benefits in times of crisis, the DOL encourages plan fiduciaries to try to limit or minimize the loss of an individual’s coverage by acting prudently and making reasonable accommodations.
In addition, the DOL issued FAQ guidance directed at participants and beneficiaries. The FAQs advise individuals on how to avoid loss of health coverage due to the events of Hurricane Harvey—laying out legal rights and directing individuals to where they can find more information about their health benefits.