The Pension Rights Center is urging the Labor Department to withdraw its proposed electronic disclosure rule, saying the plan makes it harder for workers to get the information they need to prepare for retirement and monitor their pension and 401(k) plans.
“The new DOL proposed regulation is a consumer nightmare,” said Karen Friedman, the executive vice president of the Pension Rights Center, in a statement. “Instead of ensuring that people get the information that enables them to protect themselves, the agency has created an Alice in Wonderland scheme of electronic notifications that will have millions of workers and retirees and spouses scrambling down a rabbit hole of confusion to find documents – they now may never find again.”
The comment period on the plan, the Default Electronic Disclosure by Employee Pension Benefit Plans Under ERISA, ends Friday.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act requires administrators of retirement plans “to furnish understandable, important disclosures to workers, retirees and spouses so that they know their rights, know what benefits they’re entitled to, are aware of the fees they’re being charged, and can observe whether or not the plan is being managed to protect their interests. These disclosures are critical to helping workers plan for and achieve retirement security,” the group states in their comment letter.
“Currently, unless employees work at a computer — are ‘wired at work’ as the Labor Department calls it — or have told their employer that they want to go ‘paperless,’ they receive information about their plan on paper through the mail,” the group wrote.
At the request of the financial services industry, Labor now proposes to “not only to reverse the current system, but to replace it with something called, ‘notice and access,’” which allows employers to send employees emails and texts telling them that one or more important documents are available on a website.
“Employees would then need to find a computer in which to download and print the document if they wanted to read paper copies,” the group says.
“If this rule is adopted, employees and retirees would get one paper notice telling them that they have a chance to opt out of this electronic notice regime, and if they miss the chance it looks like they may be on a perpetual hunt for documents,” Friedman said. “We’re not even sure what the process is for them to opt into paper … it’s not spelled out.”
The electronic disclosure plan was developed by Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration and issued in response to an executive order from President Donald Trump, Strengthening Retirement Security in America.
The order called for the labor secretary to review actions that could be taken to make retirement plan disclosures more understandable and useful for workers, while also reducing the costs and burdens the disclosures impose on employers and plan administrators.
Labor said that it expected the proposal to expand use of internet technology to furnish covered disclosures to workers and to result in approximately $2.4 billion net cost savings over the next 10 years for ERISA-covered retirement plans by eliminating materials, printing and mailing costs associated with furnishing printed disclosures.
“This proposal offers Americans choice in how they receive important retirement information,” said Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia. “By adjusting for modern technology, the Department can help save billions of dollars in costs for the U.S. economy.”