ERISA Benefits: How Much is Your Job Benefitting you?

There are many rewards that come with having a career, but only a select few are categorized as “benefits.” For those of you that are lucky enough to have jobs that promise these perks, it’s not always easy to keep track of all the details, such as: what is owed to you? when you can receive? and what happens if you are denied what you are entitled to?

It is vital to get informed and know your rights as a recipient of benefits, to ensure your legal rights are protected. Here’s a section of my book “The Employee Rights Handbook” that deals with just that! Read now!

ERISA Benefits

Employer-sponsored health, pension, and profit-sharing plans are governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). ERISA sets minimum standards for benefit plans, the vesting of benefits, and communication to plan participants and their beneficiaries. This includes all plans, funds, or programs that provide medical, surgical, or hospital care benefits; retirement income or the deferral of income after retirement or termination (such as severance); or deferred compensation plans such as stock bonus and money purchase pension plans. The act covers six basic areas:

  • Communications: what must be disclosed to employees, how it must be disclosed, and what reports must be filed with the federal government
  • Eligibility: which employees may participate in a benefit plan
  • Vesting: rules regarding when and to what extent benefits must be paid
  • Funding: what employers must pay into a plan to meet its normal costs and to amortize past service liabilities
  • Fiduciary responsibilities: how the investment of funds must be handled and the responsibilities of the plan administrators to oversee the plan and plan benefits
  • Plan termination insurance: the availability of insurance to protect the payment of vested benefits

The law does not require employers to establish pension or profit-sharing plans. Once they do, however, virtually all private employers are regulated by ERISA in one form or another.

The first step to understanding and enforcing your ERISA rights is to ask for details regarding the nature of your benefits when you are hired. You are entitled to an accurate, written description of all benefits under federal law. Be aware of all plans, funds, and programs that will be established on your behalf. These may include the following:

  • Defined contribution plans. These include profit-sharing plans, thrift plans, money purchase pension plans, and cash or deferred profit-sharing plans. All these plans are characterized by the fact that each participant has an individual bookkeeping account under the plan which records the participant’s total interest in the plan assets. Monies are contributed or credited in accordance with the rules of the plan contained in the plan document.
  • Defined benefit plans. These are characterized as pension plans that base the benefits payable to participants on a formula contained in the plan. Such plans are not funded individually as are defined contribution plans. Rather, they are typically funded on a group basis.
  • Employee welfare benefit plans. These are often funded through insurance and typically provide participants with medical, health, accident, disability, death, unemployment, or vacation benefits.
  • ERISA plans. These may not be as definite as the plans above. Rather, if the employer communicates that certain benefits are available, who the intended beneficiaries are, and how the plan is funded, the employer may be liable to pay such benefits even in the absence of a formal, written plan.

If you are fired just before the vesting of a pension(e.g., two months before the vesting date) or if you have a claim for benefits that is denied or ignored in whole or in part after making a request to a plan administrator consult an experienced employment attorney immediately and consider filing a lawsuit in either state or federal court. Issues regarding ERISA and benefits should be scrutinized by a competent lawyer to determine whether ERISA violations have occurred.

For a full depth analysis on this topic and many more, visit to purchase “The Employee Rights Handbook” today!


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