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Mid-Year Safe Harbor Plan Amendments and COVID-19 Relief


Andrew Presti

Mid-Year Safe Harbor Plan Amendments and COVID-19 Relief

The IRS has clarified and provided relief for mid-year amendments reducing safe harbor contributions. An updated safe harbor notice and an election opportunity must be provided even if the change is only for highly compensated employees. Coronavirus (COVID-19) relief applies if a plan amendment is adopted between March 13, 2020, and August 31, 2020. For nonelective contribution plans, the supplemental notice requirement is satisfied if provided no later than August 31, 2020, and the amendment that reduces or suspends contributions is adopted no later than the effective date of the reduction or suspension. Notice 2016-16, I.R.B., 2016-7, 318, is clarified.

Mid-Year Amendments
Safe harbor contributions for a plan year may be amended during the plan year to reduce or suspend future matching or nonelective contributions only under certain conditions. Among them are that the employer must either (1) be operating at an economic loss for the plan year, or (2) have included in the plan’s safe harbor notice for the plan year a statement that the plan may be amended during the plan year to reduce or suspend safe harbor contributions, and that the reduction or suspension will not apply earlier than 30 days after all eligible employees are provided notice of the reduction or suspension.

The reduction or suspension of safe harbor contributions may be effective no earlier than the later of the date the amendment is adopted or 30 days after eligible employees are provided in a supplemental notice. Eligible employees must be given a reasonable opportunity (including a reasonable period after receipt of the supplemental notice) prior to the reduction or suspension of safe harbor contributions to change their cash or deferred elections and, if applicable, their employee contribution elections.

Safe Harbor Contributions
Reductions or suspensions of contributions. If a plan amendment that reduces or suspends safe harbor matching or nonelective contributions during a plan year is adopted between March 13, 2020, and August 31, 2020, then the plan will not be treated as failing to satisfy the requirement that the employer either (1) is operating at an economic loss; or (2) has included in the plan’s safe harbor notice for the plan year a statement that (a) the plan may be amended during the plan year to reduce or suspend the safe harbor contributions and (b) the reduction or suspension will not apply until at least 30 days after all eligible employees are provided notice of the reduction or suspension.

Supplemental notice requirement. If a plan amendment that reduces or suspends safe harbor nonelective contributions during a plan year is adopted between March 13, 2020, and August 31, 2020, then the plan will not be treated as failing to satisfy the supplemental notice requirements merely because it is not provided to eligible employees at least 30 days before the reduction or suspension of safe harbor nonelective contributions is effective, provided that (1) the supplemental notice is provided to eligible employees no later than August 31, 2020, and (2) the plan amendment that reduces or suspends safe harbor nonelective contributions is adopted no later than the effective date of the reduction or suspension of safe harbor nonelective contributions.

There is no relief with respect to the timing of supplemental notices for a mid-year reduction or suspension of safe harbor matching contributions because matching contribution levels communicated to employees directly affect employee decisions regarding elective contributions (and, if applicable, employee contributions).

HCE Contributions
The new notice clarifies that an updated safe harbor notice and an election opportunity (as required by Notice 2016-16, I.R.B. 2016-7, 318) must be provided to highly compensated employees (HCEs) to whom the mid-year change applies, determined as of the date of issuance of the updated safe harbor notice. This rule applies even if the change only applies to HCEs.