As the number of employers and employees impacted by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) grows each day, employers with workplace retirement plans may find that employees may be looking to those plans now more than ever to help cover financial hardships they are experiencing. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (H.R. 748) includes several relief provisions for tax-qualified retirement plans, expands health care flexible spending accounts so funds can be used for over-the-counter items, clarifies some health insurance plan questions, and, through year-end, allows employers to reimburse employees for student loan payments tax-free. This alert explains those items. Further guidance will be needed from the IRS and DOL to answer many open questions about how these relief provisions are intended to work.
- Has been diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 (with a test approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention);
- Has a spouse or dependent who has been diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 (with a test approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention); or
- Has experienced adverse financial consequences from being quarantined, furloughed or laid off; having work hours reduced; being unable to work due to lack of child care; closing or reducing the hours of a business owned or operated by the individual; or from other factors, as determined by the Treasury Secretary.
- For DC plans that will allow “coronavirus-related distributions” in 2020, a new distribution code would be needed, so that those distributions are not subject to the 10% early distribution penalty tax or the mandatory 20% withholding that would otherwise apply. If employers have more than one DC plan in their controlled group, procedures are needed so that the amount of such distributions made to any individual does not exceed a total of $100,000. These procedures would be similar to those for plans that made qualified disaster distributions over the past few years for certain hurricanes, floods or wildfires. If the DC plan will allow coronavirus-related distributions to be repaid to the plan, procedures are needed to treat those as rollover contributions and to limit the amount of such repayments to the amount of coronavirus-related distributions that the employee took from all DC plans in the controlled group.
- If a DC plan sponsor wants to increase the maximum plan loan amounts available under the plans during 2020, existing plan loan procedures would need to be updated to allow for that increase. Plan sponsors who limit how many outstanding loans a participant can have at any time may want to increase that limit to allow participants to use the increased loan limits. Permissible one-year delays in loan repayments should be documented (such as updating amortization schedules), so that loans will not go into default. DC plans that do not currently allow participant plan loans could be amended to add them.
- DC plan sponsors will need to update their plan operation immediately for the waived 2020 RMD distributions. Plans would use similar procedures as were used when 2009 RMD payments were waived after the 2008 economic crisis.
- The plan’s definitions of covered compensation should be reviewed to ensure it is aligned with the sponsor’s intent, especially with regard to determining if employee assistance and paid leave will be subject to employees’ deferral elections and employer contributions.