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A Chronology of COVID-19 Relief for ERISA Plans

This chronology traces the major ongoing relief provided by legislation, regulatory action, and other agency guidance to assist ERISA plan participants, fiduciaries, and sponsors during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic through August 10, 2020. Superseded agency guidance is not included in the chronology.

Terms/acronyms used:

  • COVID-19 – Includes statutory and regulatory references to coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and pandemic
  • FSA – Flexible spending account
  • HDHP – High deductible health plan
  • Outbreak Period – Begins March 1 and ends 60 days after the declared end of the National Emergency
  • RMDs – Required minimum distributions

2020 Date



Verrill Commentary

March 11

IRS Notice 2020-15

HDHPs may cover testing and treatment for COVID-19 before satisfaction of the deductible or with a deductible below the HDHP minimum

High-Deductible Health Plans can Cover Coronavirus Costs

March 13

Declaration of National Emergency/Stafford Act Declarations of Emergency for All U.S. States, Territories, and Possessions

Stafford Act declarations permit hardship withdrawals from 401(k) and 403(b) plans for the duration of the emergency

March 27

CARES Act – Retirement Plans

Authorizes time-limited relief for 401(k), 403(b), and governmental 457(b) plan participants directly affected by COVID-19

Special distributions up to $100,000, with tax relief
Plan loans up to $100,000 or 100% of account balance
Postponed plan loan payments

Waives 2020 RMDs from defined contribution plans
Defined benefit plan sponsors may postpone 2020 required minimum contributions

With CARES Act, Congress Provides Retirement Plan Relief and Group Health Plan Changes

March 27

CARES Act – Group Health Plans

Mandates coverage of certain medical care to prevent or mitigate COVID-19 and of certain in vitro diagnostic services without cost-sharing or preauthorization
HDHPs may cover telehealth and other remote care before satisfaction of the deductible or with a deductible below the HDHP minimum

With CARES Act, Congress Provides Retirement Plan Relief and Group Health Plan Changes

April 10

PBGC Disaster Relief Announcement

Extended deadlines for premium payments and filings due on or after April 1 to July 15

April 28

DOL Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01

Relief for retirement plan fiduciaries who cannot meet certain ERISA requirements during the Outbreak Period due to COVID-19

Good faith failures to timely furnish ERISA notices, disclosures, and other documents, if furnished as soon as administratively practicable
Good faith failures to timely remit participant contributions and loan payments to a plan, if remitted as soon as administratively practicable

Guidance related to granting CARES Act distributions and loans
Guidance on blackout notices, Form 5500 and Form M-1 filing relief, and other general compliance guidance on ERISA fiduciary responsibilities during COVID-19

May 4

DOL/IRS Final Rule: Extension of Certain Timeframes for Employee Benefit Plans, Participants and Beneficiaries Affected by the COVID-19 Outbreak

Extends certain health plan time frames affecting special enrollment and COBRA coverage, as well as claims and appeal deadlines for all ERISA plans, to the end of the Outbreak Period

IRS and DOL Extend Certain Health & Welfare Benefit Plan-Related Deadlines

May 12

IRS Notice 2020-29

Cafeteria plans may permit mid-year changes to employer-sponsored health coverage, health FSAs, and dependent care assistance programs (including dependent care FSAs) without a status change event
Claims period for health FSAs and dependent care assistance programs extended
Clarifies and expands relief allowing HDHPs to cover expenses related to COVID-19 and telehealth services retroactive to January 1, 2020

IRS Relaxes Rules for Cafeteria Plans and Clarifies Relief for High Deductible Health Plans

May 12

IRS Notice 2020-33

Limit on carry-over amounts in a health FSA increased to $550
Clarifies timing for health plan reimbursements

IRS Relaxes Rules for Cafeteria Plans and Clarifies Relief for High Deductible Health Plans

May 27

DOL Final Rule: Default Electronic Disclosure by Employee Pension Benefit Plans under ERISA

New alternative safe harbor for electronic delivery of required disclosures under ERISA Title I

DOL E-Disclosure Rule Recognizes our New (Digital) Reality

June 3

IRS Notice 2020-42

Temporary relief from the physical presence requirement for witnessing certain plan elections during 2020

June 19

IRS Notice 2020-50

Expanded relief and guidance for retirement plan distributions and loans under the CARES Act

IRS Issues New Guidance on Cares Act Retirement Plan Distributions and Loans

June 23

IRS Notice 2020-51

Guidance for waiver of 2020 RMDs under the CARES Act, including eligibility for rollover into a retirement plan or IRA if voluntarily received or received before passage of the CARES Act

June 23

IRS Notice 2020-52

Temporary relief related to certain mid-year changes to safe harbor 401(k) or 401(m) plans that reduce or suspend safe harbor contributions

July 20

PBGC COVID-19-Related Single-Employer Plan Sponsors and Administrators Questions and Answers

Guidance for postponement of required minimum contributions under the CARES Act

July 30

IRS Coronavirus-related Relief for Retirement Plans and IRAs – Questions and Answers, Q15

In general, participants terminated due to the COVID-19 pandemic and rehired in 2020 will not cause a partial plan termination

Employee Layoffs May Vest Retirement Plan Benefits

August 6

IRS Notice 2020-61

Guidance on the special rules relating to funding of single-employer defined benefit plans and related benefit limitations under the CARES Act

Topics: COVID-19