HR Support with Ensuring ERISA Compliance

Editor's Note: Ensure compliance with reporting, disclosure and fiduciary requirements.

Tracy MorleyOverview: The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) sets minimum standards for pension, health and other welfare plans (e.g., life insurance, disability) in order to provide protection to participants in these plans. ERISA applies to private employers that provide employer-sponsored retirement, health and welfare benefit plans to employees.

ERISA does not require employers to offer benefit plans but regulates and sets standards for:

  • Reporting Requirements, including filing Form 5500 (the annual return/report of employee benefit plan) and related schedules;
  • Disclosure Requirements, which include providing participants with the summary plan description (SPD), summary annual report (SAR) and summary of material modifications (SMM); and
  • Fiduciary Responsibilities by requiring plan fiduciaries to ensure the plan is maintained in the interest of participants and beneficiaries; to act prudently in an effort to minimize risk and to administer the plan in accordance with the terms of the plan document and ERISA requirements.

Two amendments to ERISA have expanded protection to participants and beneficiaries in health plans. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) provides employees and their families the opportunity to continue their health coverage after certain qualifying events, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provides protection to individuals with pre-existing medical conditions. Other important amendments to ERISA include the Newborns' and Mothers' Health Protection Act, the Mental Health Parity Act and the Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act.

Trends: Communicating benefit plan information to employees is still an area of exposure for employers. If not done properly, employers run the risk of being liable for breach of fiduciary duty. To avoid this liability, employers should be sure to control the flow of information concerning benefits and ensure designated representatives are well-trained and can provide timely and accurate information.

Author: Tracy Morley, SPHR, Legal Editor

Latest items in ERISA

  • ERISA Fiduciaries Must Continuously Monitor Plan Investments

    Date:
    21 May 2015
    Type:
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    The US Supreme Court has confirmed that plan fiduciaries have a continuing obligation to monitor investments in a plan under § 401(k) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). Plan fiduciaries need to take concrete steps to minimize liability risks.

  • Type:
    Legal Insight

    The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requires plan sponsors to meet fiduciary, reporting and disclosure requirements. ERISA also sets minimum standards for participation, vesting, benefit accruals and funding. This Legal Insight focuses on a plan sponsor's fiduciary and disclosure responsibilities under ERISA and explains how to navigate DOL regulations and enforcement activities.

  • Supreme Court Sides With Employer in ERISA Dispute

    Date:
    27 January 2015
    Type:
    News

    The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that a group of retired employees are not necessarily entitled to permanent, contribution-free health care benefits. Writing for the Court, Justice Clarence Thomas said, "Employers or other plan sponsors are generally free under ERISA at any time to adopt, modify or terminate welfare plans."

  • Retirement Benefits Handbook Statement

    Type:
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    Employers seeking to advise employees of any retirement benefits offered to employees as part of their overall benefits package should consider including this model policy statement in their handbook.

  • 'Clear Notice' Standard Adopted by 6th Circuit, Plan Administrator Liable for Stiff ERISA Penalty

    Date:
    05 June 2014
    Type:
    News

    Despite receiving an unclear request, a benefits plan administrator was liable under ERISA for failing to timely provide requested plan documents. The 6th Circuit has adopted the "clear notice" standard, but ruled that the administrator knew or should have known which documents were requested.

  • New Guidance on Retirement Benefits for Same-Sex Spouses: Employment Law Manual Updated

    Date:
    29 April 2014
    Type:
    Editor's Choice

    Notice 2014-19, issued by the IRS, provides guidance on how qualified retirement plans should treat same-sex spouses. The notice also requires qualified retirement plans to recognize the same-sex spouse of a participant. and provides plan participants with important rights with respect to certain aspects of a qualified retirement plan.

  • Compliance, Reporting and Disclosure Requirements: Federal

    Type:
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    This section helps HR professionals comply with the complex regulatory requirements governing employee benefit plan administration.

  • Same-Sex Spouses Now Covered by ERISA, DOL Says

    Date:
    20 September 2013
    Type:
    News

    Recent guidance issued by the US Department of Labor states same-sex spouses are now eligible for the same benefits and protections as opposite-sex spouses under employee benefit plans and programs covered under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

  • DOMA Ruling Causes Significant Benefit-Related Challenges, Uncertainty for Employers

    Date:
    02 July 2013
    Type:
    News

    The Supreme Court's ruling striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act raises significant issues related to the administration of employee benefit plans.

  • Supreme Court Rulings Advance Same-Sex Marriage

    Date:
    27 June 2013
    Type:
    News

    The Supreme Court handed down two decisions in favor of same-sex marriage that could significantly impact employee benefit plan administration and other areas of employment law.