What parts of my pension plan does ERISA cover?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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ERISA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, is designed to protect employees by providing uniform standards that employers must meet when establishing employee benefit plans. Not all plans fall under the protection of ERISA, but for those that do, there are a number of aspects of the plan that will be protected under ERISA standards or requirements.

The parts of a pension plan that fall under ERISA protection vary. Generally speaking, ERISA sets minimum standards for pensions in the areas of:

  • Funding sources (such as rules for employer matching programs)
  • Participation (such as mandates that require employers of certain sizes to provide certain types of plans)
  • Accrual of benefits over time (such as details about vesting and partial vesting of benefits)
  • How funds are administered, including requirements that funds not be mismanaged and that managers of pension/benefit funds act as fiduciaries of the employee plan participants)
  • Reporting and disclosure methods and rules
  • Provisions for beneficiaries and the establishment of joint accounts (such as a requirement that a person’s pension can be left to his or her spouse upon death)
  • Methods for termination of plan before set contract time

A plan that falls under ERISA will have to meet various requirements on these and other, and it will be the responsibility of the employer to ensure that such regulations are met. It’s important to note that employers do have a certain amount of control over how they work with ERISA, so the regulations that apply to one company will not necessarily apply to another. If you have questions about your pension plan, you should speak to your supervisor or human resources manager. If your employer is unable to provide you with the information you need, consider speaking with a qualified employment lawyer. They can be valuable sources of information.

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