ERISA (The Employee Retirement Income Security Act) was enacted in 1974 as a measure to protect the retirement assets of American workers. It sets minimum standards for pension plans in the private business sector. The law does not force companies to provide pensions, nor does it stipulate any amounts to be paid into such plans. It is merely a set of codes to guarantee that pension plans meet minimum standards. At Littman and Babiarz Law, we are your pension and retirement law consultants in Auburn, Ithaca, Elmira, and Syracuse, New York for questions regarding ERISA and its provisions.
Basic ERISA Provisions
• ERISA requires pension plans to fully disclose information about the plan to participants, including important information about funding and features. Plans are required to provide some information regularly and automatically.
• ERISA sets minimum standards for funding, participation, vesting, and how benefits accrue. The law also defines how long a person is required to work before becoming eligible to participate, to accumulate benefits, and to enjoy those benefits.
• ERISA defines a fiduciary as anyone who makes decisions regarding a plan’s management or assets, including those who provide advice regarding investments. Fiduciaries who violate the principles of conduct can be held responsible for restoring any losses to the plan.
• ERISA provides a guarantee to pay certain benefits if a plan is cancelled. This is handled through a federally chartered corporation called the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
• ERISA gives participants the right to sue for benefits and breaches of fiduciary duty.
1. What information is a pension plan required to disclose?
Under ERISA, plan administrators are required to disclose the most important facts in the Summary Plan Description (SPD). This tells you how the plan operates and what it provides. In addition, plan participants must be provided with a Summary Annual Report.
2. Do I have to wait to enroll in a pension plan and to enjoy benefits?
Most plans require a person to reach the age of 21 and have at least one year of employment at the business before becoming eligible to enroll. Different schedules are used to determine when a participant becomes “vested,” or eligible for plan benefits.
3. When does my employer have to deposit my contributions for my pension plan?
Employers must deposit withheld employee pension plan contributions no later than the fifteenth business day of the month following the month in which the contributions were made.
4. When can I begin accepting payments from my pension plan?
Limitations regarding plan distributions vary between plans. Your Summary Plan Description (SPD) should contain specific rules governing when you may receive benefits. Most plans set a normal retirement age, with variations for early retirement, disability, or other unexpected conditions.
5. What happens to my benefits in the event of my death?
ERISA does provide some protection for surviving spouses of plan participants who die. The benefit depends on the type of plan and whether the participant dies before or after pension benefits are scheduled to begin. Your plan SPD should have details.
Do I Have the Right to Legal Action Under ERISA?
Pension plan participants have the right to sue their plan and its legal fiduciaries to either enforce or clarify their rights under certain conditions. You may open legal proceedings in order to recover benefits, obtain documents, address a breach of contract, and other issues. If you believe your pension is being mishandled in violation of ERISA guidelines, you should speak with an attorney immediately.
At Littman and Babiarz Law, we are your retirement advocates. Our experienced attorneys have the knowledge and skill to handle your ERISA law case to ensure you receive the full pension benefits to which you are entitled. For over 30 years, we have been serving the citizens of Ithaca, Auburn, Syracuse, Elmira, and central New York. Give us a call at
607-277-7527 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.