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Department of Labor Issues Relief Guidance for Victims of California Wildfires

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued benefit plan guidance and relief for plans and participants affected by the 2018 California Wildfires. The DOL recognizes that plan sponsors and participants may be affected in their ability to achieve compliance with various regulatory requirements. The guidance generally applies to all parties involved in employee benefit plans located in areas identified by FEMA as disaster areas, listed here: www.fema.gov/disasters.

The guidance provides relief from procedures related to plan loans and loan repayment, distributions, contributions and blackout notices. In general, the DOL will not take enforcement actions if plans follow the guiding principle to act reasonably, prudently and in the best interests of workers and families who rely on the plans for their economic well-being.

Specific guidance is offered in certain areas:

+ Loans and Distributions: Plan sponsors must make a good faith effort to follow procedural requirements under the plan, but the DOL will not assist with requirements and if unable, make a reasonable attempt to assemble any missing documentation as soon as practicable.

+ Participant Contributions and Loan Repayments: The DOL recognizes that some employers in these disaster areas may not be able to forward amounts withheld from employee wages within prescribed timeframes. Employers are required to act reasonably, prudently and in the interest of employees and comply with the regulations as soon as practicable. The DOL will not take enforcement action if timelines were not met solely due to the 2018 California Wildfires, in the FEMA-identified areas.

+ Blackout Notices: Generally, 30 days’ advance notice is required when a participant’s rights under a plan will be temporarily suspended, limited or restricted due to a blackout period. The DOL regulations provide an exception to this requirement when the inability to provide notice within the required timeframe is due to events beyond the plan sponsor’s or fiduciary’s control.

The full DOL fact sheet can be found here. Your advisor is available to answer any questions you may have or help you determine practical approaches to meeting fiduciary duties and requirements

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