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The Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a federal law that establishes guidelines for the administration of employee benefit plans such as health insurance and pension plans. ERISA creates a uniform standard that applies nationwide to protect plan participants and beneficiaries from losing their benefits.
Prior to the enactment of ERISA, employees were exposed to certain risks to their retirement plans due to lack of funding and mismanagement. Even worse, employers could take back those benefits in the event of bankruptcy or financial hardship. ERISA imposed safety mechanisms that protect these plans. Understanding ERISA is an important part of protecting your rights.
ERISA applies to private employers that offer certain benefits plans to their employees. There is no minimum number of employees an employer must have for ERISA to apply. Having just one employee can trigger the application of ERISA. However, government employers and churches are generally not subject to ERISA guidelines. As a result, benefit plans provided by a government agency or church may not be covered.
ERISA does not mandate that employers provide pensions, health care, or other fringe benefits, but rather sets forth guidelines to follow when these packages are offered. The requirements ERISA sets forth create a minimum standard for employers who provide these packages to follow.
Part of understanding ERISA is understanding the benefits the law covers. ERISA covers a broad range of employee benefits including:
Generally, any employer-sponsored benefits plan will be covered under ERISA.
Employers must comply with the reporting and disclosure provisions of ERISA with respect to the government and plan participants. Employers must submit reports to the federal government. In addition, employers must provide employees with information pertaining to their benefit plans. These disclosures should include information regarding a summary of the benefits, how to obtain the benefits, and any plan limits.
Plan administrators are responsible for managing employee benefit plans and owe plan participants a fiduciary duty, meaning they are held to certain standards of conduct that they must meet to avoid liability. Plan administrators should act in the best interest of plan participants by investing funds prudently to avoid substantial losses. These standards serve to protect employees from the poor management of their retirement funds. Plan administrators should provide employees with summaries of their benefit plans and notify them of any changes to their plans.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the federal courts enforce ERISA. A subsection of the DOL called the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) is tasked with investigating potential violations ERISA.
Most employees rely on their retirement plans for financial support in the future. If your retirement plan is jeopardized in any way, it can be devastating. A knowledgeable attorney can advise you regarding your rights under ERISA.
ERISA is a complicated law to understand and has a history of being amended frequently. Employees who have questions or concerns regarding ERISA should not hesitate to seek the assistance of an attorney. An attorney has the experience needed to help you understand ERISA.
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