401(k) Blackout Period

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401(k) plans that permit participants and beneficiaries to direct the investment of their own accounts (“participant-directed 401(k) plans”) must issue advance notice of certain “blackout periods.” The term “blackout period” means a period of more than three consecutive business days during which participants or beneficiaries are temporarily suspended or restricted from:

A blackout period typically occurs when a participant-directed 401(k) plan changes recordkeepers, trustees, and/or its menu of investment options. It can also occur in certain plan merger or spin-off situations.

The term “blackout period” does not include any suspensions, limitations, or restrictions imposed on a participant’s account due to:

 Notice Content

The blackout notice must be written in a manner that can be understood by the average plan participant, and must contain the following information:

Model Notice

The DOL has provided a model blackout notice as part of its final regulations.


The notice must be provided to all participants and beneficiaries to whom the blackout applies (i.e., all participants who have the ability to direct their own investments under the plan).


A copy of the notice generally must be distributed to each participant:

Timing Exceptions

The DOL has indicated that plan sponsors are permitted to provide the notice earlier and more frequently than required by the interim rule, as long as at least one notice is provided during the required notice period.

In addition, the guidance lists certain situations under which the 30-day advance notice requirement does not apply. In these situations, the plan administrator is still required to provide the notice as soon as reasonably possible, unless such notice is impracticable.

Advance notice might be impracticable, for example, if the blackout period is determined only a few days before it begins, and the duration of the blackout is only for a short period.

The situations in which the 30-day requirement does not apply are:

There are also special rules that apply to changes in the anticipated length of the original blackout period.  In general, a new blackout notice must be provided in these cases.