The Labor Department issued a new rule, effective July 27, 2020, that describes a new form of electronic disclosure for retirement plan information called “notice-and-access.” This new scheme of disclosure will put the burden of finding retirement plan information on to the participants in the plan. Rather than receiving your retirement plan information on paper through the mail, you could be required to search websites to find that same information. If your employer has chosen to use this “notice-and-access” disclosure scheme you will need to be proactive in seeking out the information you want that, in the past, would have been sent to you by mail.
It is important to know that employers are not required to use this notice-and-access delivery method. It is an optional delivery method. However, it is expected that most employers will decide to use it.
Initial paper notice
Notice of internet availability (NOIA)
IMPORTANT: The notice of internet availability must include your right to free paper copies of each document and how to exercise that right. The notice must also include your right to totally opt-out of electronic delivery and how to do it. The notice must include a contact phone number. Be aware that only one paper copy of a document must be provided for free. There could be a charge for additional copies. When a notice includes more than one document, you may choose which of the documents you would like on paper, or all of them.
Employers may choose to send you an email with documents attached. The documents must be printable, and the email notice must include the right to paper copies and the right to opt-out of electronic delivery. This “direct delivery” electronic disclosure method can be combined with notice-and-access. Alternatively, employers may choose, but are not required, to send some documents to you on paper by mail.
Your right to paper copies and the right to opt-out could be the most important rights in this “notice-and-access” scheme. You will be responsible for obtaining the documents you will need to understand your plan and to later prove your right to benefits when you leave employment. Some brief documents can perhaps be read and understood on a website, but others may require study, such as the comparative chart of investment choices, while others should be held for future reference, such as summary plan descriptions and benefit statements. You will need to be pro-active in requesting paper copies. Be aware that the rule requires only one FREE paper copy per document. Once you get a paper copy, you need to keep it.
Remember that documents may only be posted on the website for a year, or if later, until the document is replaced by a newer version of the same document. For example, a quarterly pension benefit statement could be replaced every year. An SPD could be on the website until it is replaced by a newer version. However, you should request paper copies of important documents as soon as possible so that you will have them for your records. Be sure when requesting paper copies that you follow the instructions and if you do not receive a copy “promptly” you should follow-up.
You can opt out of electronic disclosure at any time.
Spouses and beneficiaries are only included in this “notice-and-access” disclosure system if they have voluntarily provided an electronic address.
If you choose to opt-out of electronic disclosure, you will of course receive all disclosures by mail. Employers may, however, give you a choice of which disclosures you want on paper and which you would like to receive electronically on the website, but this is not required.
If you encounter difficulties in opting-out or receiving paper copies from a service provider when you have requested them, you can inform your employer of the problems you have had. Employers have an obligation to monitor service providers. Similarly, if the procedures to request paper or to opt-out are particularly cumbersome, you should inform your employer.
You also can submit a complaint to the Employee Benefits Security Administration of the Department of Labor by calling 1-866-444-3272 or by sending an email to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you continue to have problems receiving requested documents, you may contact one of the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Pension and Information Counseling Projects.
For more detailed information about the Labor Department notice-and-access rule for delivery of retirement plan information, see the Pension Rights Center Fact Sheet, “Labor Department Notice-and Access Disclosure Rule: BASICS.”
The Pension Rights Center has a list and brief description of many of the required documents that could be disclosed to you. Of course, you will not receive all of the documents listed, only those that pertain to your plan. You could find the list helpful.