On May 22, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a news brief providing Fiduciary Rule guidance in anticipation of the upcoming June 9 partial effectiveness date. The Fiduciary Rule—a 2016 final rule expanding the definition of who qualifies as a “fiduciary” under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code—will go into effect as planned with full implementation on January 1, 2018. DOL Secretary Alexander Acosta wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the Administrative Procedures Act, which governs federal rulemaking, would not allow a further delay. “We...have found no principled legal basis to change the June 9 date while we seek public input,” Acosta wrote. “Respect for the rule of law leads us to the conclusion that this date cannot be postponed.” The DOL’s release also includes Frequently Asked Questions, which provides clarification on the release dates of the provisions and related prohibited transaction exemptions. Although Acosta declined to authorize a further delay, he said that the DOL will continue its review of the final rule pursuant to the President’s February 3 Presidential Memorandum on Fiduciary Duty Rule. (See previous InfoBytes summary here.)
Notably, the DOL asserted that its general approach to implementation will be marked by an emphasis on compliance assistance (rather than citing violations and imposing penalties). Accordingly, during the phased implementation period, the DOL will not pursue claims against “fiduciaries who are working diligently and in good faith to comply with the fiduciary duty rule and exemptions,” or treat those fiduciaries as being in violation of the fiduciary duty rule and exemptions.