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April 10, 2002
New Rule for Electronic Benefits Communciation
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U.S. Department of Labor has published a final rule expanding the options available for employee benefit plans interested in using electronic technologies to communicate plan information.

The rule also sets standards for administrators, employers, and others using electronic media to keep employee benefit plan records as required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

"We are opening the way for workers and their families to take advantage of 21st century technologies when receiving benefit plan information," said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. "This rule is designed to encourage the use of new technologies for communicating information to participants and beneficiaries in ERISA-covered pension, group health and other employee benefit plans."

The final rule covers electronic disclosures at work and beyond the workplace, such as at people's homes, where certain conditions designed to protect participants and beneficiaries are satisfied.

For example, for non-workplace communications, participants and beneficiaries must be given certain basic information necessary to make an informed decision about receiving documents electronically, and then consent to receive plan communications in electronic form. The consent provisions were modeled after the consumer consent provisions in the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (E-SIGN) Act. The final rule also provides that participants and beneficiaries always have a right to a paper version of electronic disclosures on request.

The rule continues to be a "safe harbor," and does not foreclose other means by which plan administrators might use electronic technologies to satisfy disclosure obligations under ERISA.

The final rule applies to all reports, statements, notices and other documents required to be furnished under Title I of ERISA over which the department has regulatory and interpretive responsibility.

A Notice of Final Rulemaking, which includes the text of the final rule and a discussion of the public comments the Department received, was published in the April 9 Federal Register. To view it, click here.

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