Delivery Methods



Where distribution of ERISA materials is required, they must be furnished in a way that is reasonably calculated to ensure delivery and to likely result in a full distribution. Although the Department of Labor (DOL) provides “safe harbor” distribution methods, the employer may choose other methods as long as they satisfy this requirement.The DOL has specified the “safe harbor” distribution methods outlined below as meeting ERISA’s distribution requirements. Please note that the DOL does not require that an employer prove the actual receipt by a recipient, just that the delivery method is likely to result in the receipt of the materials. In addition, the employer may use different delivery methods for different classes of employees. For example, it may choose to:

  • Hand deliver materials to full time employees
  • Electronically distribute materials to exempt employees
  • Mail materials to retirees or COBRA qualified beneficiaries
   ERISA Title I disclosures include:

  • Summary Plan Descriptions (SPD)
  • Summaries of material modifications
  • Summary annual reports
  • COBRA notifications
  • Qualified medical child support order notices
  • HIPAA certificates of creditable coverage


A. Paper Deliver of Materials

The following paper delivery methods are specified by the DOL as consistent with the general requirement that materials be furnished by a method that is reasonably calculated to ensure actual receipt.

1.   U.S. Mail

2.     Intra-Office Mail or Inserts

Materials may be provided as a special insert to a company publication provided that:

3.     Hand Delivery

Although specified as a safe harbor delivery method, the regulations do not specify what constitutes hand delivery. If an employer hand delivers material, it should be prepared to prove delivery, which may consist of:

Simply placing the material in a location that is frequented by eligible participants is NOT an acceptable method.    

B. Electronic Delivery of Materials

 The regulations allow plan administrators to electronically send all disclosures required under Title I of ERISA.

Electronic Delivery Methods  The following electronic delivery methods are specified by the DOL as consistent with the general requirement that materials be furnished by a method that is reasonably calculated to ensure actual receipt.

To comply with this safe harbor, the employer must:

Participant Consent  Depending on the situations, electronic delivery may require prior consent from the participant.

Without Prior Consent

With Prior Consent 

Consent must include the following information:

Home Office Employees  Employees working out of a home office will fall under this provision provided that they meet the requirements above and that the home office is a location where the employment duties could be reasonably performed and that access to the employer’s computer system is an integral part of the employee’s duties. If the employees meet the criteria above, they DO NOT have to:

No Computer Access  Employees/Individuals without work related computer access may affirmatively consent to the electronic delivery of materials.  The consent must include the same information outlined above.  Note: The plan administrator is generally not required to distribute SPDs, SMMs, or SARs to each beneficiary under the plan. Therefore, the plan administrator is not required to obtain consent from each beneficiary under the plan (e.g. spouses and dependents).

If delivery is through the Internet or other electronic communication system, the individual must affirmatively consent in a manner that reasonably demonstrates the individual’s ability to access information in the electronic format that will be used. Requiring that the consents be furnished back to the employer electronically is a reasonable demonstration of the individual’s access ability. 

An individual must provide an electronic address for delivery of documents.


Can benefit and claim determinations be provided electronically? 

Yes. The regulations allow that benefit and claims determinations related to a specific individual may be communicated electronically to that individual.  However, if the information contained within the communication is confidential in nature, the plan administrator must take appropriate and necessary steps to ensure that the information remains confidential.  The regulations do not provide any guidance on what measures must be used to protect the confidentiality of this information.

 What forms of electronic disclosure are permissible?

The regulations do not require the use of any specific form of electronic media.  Examples of permissible forms of electronic disclosure include delivery of documents by email, attachment to an email, posting documents on a company Web site, or on CD-ROM or DVD.

 May a plan administrator electronically deliver ERISA notices by placing the information on a company Web site?

Not by itself.  The plan administrator must also send a notice, either electronically or in paper form, that notifies the employee that the SPD is available on the Web site.

Click here for a printable summary of the electronic delivery rules.

The paper and electronic distribution methods described above are not intended to be exclusive and employers may use other distribution methods. Whatever method is used, employers should be prepared to prove in individual cases that information was provided.

Additional Resources

Reporting and Disclosure Guide for Employee Benefit Plans

Federal Register: Rules Relating to Use of Electronic Communication