Amid the most destructive wildfire season in California history, the US Department of Labor (DOL) has unveiled relief measures to support those affected. The DOL declared in November a comprehensive relief effort spanning several agencies, including the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), Wage and Hour Division, and Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS). Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said the DOL’s initiative will support impacted employers and workers as they recover from disaster.
One measure enacted by the OFCCP offers exemption from a requirement to develop written affirmative action plans; the temporary waiver applies to supply, service and construction firms contracted for wildfire relief efforts. Contracts enacted between November 19, 2018 and February 19, 2019 are eligible for exemption. For further information on conditions and eligibility, check this Q&A by the OFCCP.
The EBSA is offering several forms of relief in recognition of the wildfires’ impact on the ability of those involved with employee pension benefit plans to comply with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Those include relief from verification procedures for distributions and loans, relief from deadlines for forwarding loan payments and withholdings, the waiver of a requirement to supply advance notice to beneficiaries whose payments may be suspended due to blackouts, and postponement of filing deadlines for the Form 5500 Annual Return/Report. Relief in these cases is available only if compliance failures occurred solely due to the wildfires’ impact.
The EBSA will also provide grace periods and other compliance aid to providers who, due to circumstances caused by the fires, cannot meet claims processing deadlines or comply with certain requirements, particularly in cases where the wildfires may disrupt a plan or service providers’ place of business. Nevertheless, the EBSA urges plan fiduciaries to take reasonable steps to prevent any undue loss of benefits or delay of payments. A FAQ for participants and beneficiaries whose benefits may be affected by the wildfires is available here.
In addition, the DOL’s Wage and Hour division has noted in a press release that it will prioritize calls from wildfire-affected areas in an effort to address all questions regarding wage requirements. The Wage and Hour Division also specified that wildfire-affected employers must still abide by the Fair Labor Standards Act. A business destroyed by fire, for instance, would still have to compensate employees for all hours worked prior–at a rate of at least full minimum wage, plus any overtime–though payments may be delayed depending on the situation.
Finally, the OLMS has declared that it will not pursue civil action on complaints surrounding a failure to hold a planned election if the delay was attributable to the wildfires. However, the OMLS clarified that it will require unions to promptly reschedule the election. Enforcement will also be postponed for wildfire-related failures to file public disclosure reports, as long as a new submission date is established before the report comes due.