Retirement Plans and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)
You just started a new job and you have started placing funds from every paycheck you earn into an employer-sponsored retirement plan. However, you are worried with all the stories you have seen floating around that you may not be able to access those funds once you actually retire if there is a dip in the economy or some other unforeseen circumstance. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) protects working Americans’ funds placed into such retirement plans by establishing minimum requirements for retirement plans provided by private industry employers.
Specifically, ERISA sets forth rules on when an employee must be allowed to become a plan participant, the amount of time you need to work before you can have a nonforfeitable interest in your retirement benefits, whether and for what amount of time you can take temporary leave from your job before your retirement benefits are affected, and whether any third party (i.e. your spouse) may have an interest in your retirement benefit when you die.
Requirements for Employer Retirement Plans Under ERISA
It is important to note that ERISA does not impose a requirement on any employer to offer a retirement plan. Rather, it imposes minimum requirements if an employer does opt to establish and provide a plan to their employers. Here are some of the primary plan requirements under ERISA:
- Plan participants have a right to sue if they are denied benefits and have a right to sue for any breaches of fiduciary duty.
- Plan participants are guaranteed to receive payment of certain benefits by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation even if a defined plan is terminated.
- Employers who provide a plan must give all plan participants relevant information about the plan, including all of the plan’s features and funding.
- Any plan fiduciaries must be held accountable. A fiduciary is defined under ERISA as someone who has discretionary authority or control over the plan’s management or assets. This includes anyone who may give investment advice for the plan.
- ERISA generally establishes all minimum requirements for participation, benefit accrual, vesting, and funding of plans.
Can I Participate in my Employer’s Plan?
The first step for any employee is to determine what type of retirement plan your employer offers and when you can participate in the plan. You will then want to review the booklet for your specific plan (known as the “Summary Plan Description”) to understand your plan’s specific requirements (how long you need to work for the company before you can participate, when you can start accumulating benefits, whether your particular position is covered).
Contact Us Today for Assistance
It is important to understand whether your employer’s retirement plan complies with ERISA to gain a better understanding of what your rights are with respect to that plan. The experienced Clearwater employment law attorneys at Dilla Employment Law, P.A. can help you walk through your plan and understand your specific rights to ensure your employer is meeting the requirements under the statute. Contact us today for a consultation.