ERISA and Your Rights as a Plan Participant

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a federal law that sets minimum standards for most voluntarily established retirement and health plans in private industry to provide protection for individuals in these plans. ERISA covers pension plans // health plans, and other employee benefit plans.

ERISA’s Key Provisions

ERISA has several key provisions, including:

  • Participation and vesting: ERISA sets minimum standards for when employees must be allowed to participate in a plan and when they must vest in their benefits. Vesting means that the employee has a legal right to their benefits, even if they leave their job before retirement.
  • Funding: ERISA requires defined benefit pension plans to be funded on a sound actuarial basis. This means that the plan must have enough money to pay its benefits to retirees.
  • Fiduciary responsibility: ERISA imposes fiduciary duties on those who manage and control plan assets. These duties include acting in the best interests of the plan participants and beneficiaries, avoiding conflicts of interest, and prudently investing plan assets.
  • Reporting and disclosure: ERISA requires plan administrators to provide participants with information about their plans, including summary plan descriptions and annual reports.
  • Enforcement: ERISA is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), and private lawsuits.

ERISA’s Importance

ERISA is an important law because it helps to protect the retirement and health benefits of millions of Americans. ERISA’s minimum standards ensure that plan participants have a fair chance to earn and keep their benefits. ERISA’s fiduciary duties also help to ensure that plan assets are managed in a responsible manner.

ERISA Law in the News

ERISA law is a complex and ever-evolving area of law. In recent years, there have been a number of important developments in ERISA law, including:

  • The Supreme Court’s decision in Tibble v. Edison International (2019), which held that ERISA preempts state law claims that relate to the administration of ERISA plans.
  • The Department of Labor’s final rule on fiduciary duties, which clarified and strengthened the fiduciary duties that apply to plan fiduciaries.
  • The passage of the SECURE Act and the CARES Act, which made a number of changes to ERISA law, including expanding access to retirement savings plans and providing relief to plan participants and employers during the COVID-19 pandemic.


ERISA is a complex but important law that helps to protect the retirement and health benefits of millions of Americans. Plan participants should be familiar with their ERISA rights and should contact an attorney if they have any questions about their benefits or if they believe that their rights have been violated.

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