Employees who participate in group retirement and welfare benefit plans such as medical, dental, vision, life insurance, disability benefits, and flexible savings accounts are entitled to certain rights and protections under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). ERISA provides that all Plan Participants are entitled to:
- Examine, without charge, at the Plan Administrator′s office all documents, including insurance contracts, and copies of all documents filed by the Plan with the U.S. Department of Labor, such as annual reports and Plan descriptions.
- Obtain copies of all Plan documents and other Plan information upon written request to the Plan Administrator. The Administrator may make a reasonable charge for the copies.
- Receive a summary of the Plan′s annual financial report. The Plan Administrator is required by law to furnish the employee with a summary of the Plan′s financial report.
- Obtain a statement telling whether the employee has a right to receive a pension at normal retirement age and if so, what the employee’s benefits would be at normal retirement age if the employee stops working under the Plan now. If the employee does not have the right to a pension, the statement will tell the employee how many more years the employee has to work to get a right to a pension. This statement must be requested in writing and is not required to be given more than once a year. The Plan must provide the statement free of charge.
In addition to creating rights for Plan Participants, ERISA imposes duties upon the people who are responsible for operating the plan. The people who operate the Plan, called "fiduciaries" of the Plan, have a duty to do so prudently and in the interest of employees and other Plan Participants and beneficiaries.
No one, including the employee’s employer, union, or any other person, may fire the employee or otherwise discriminate against the employee in any way to prevent the employee from obtaining a pension or other welfare benefit or exercising the employee’s rights under ERISA. If the employee’s claim for a pension benefit is denied in whole or in part, the employee must receive a written explanation of the reason for the denial. Employees have the right to have the Plan review and reconsider the employee’s claim.
Under ERISA, there are steps the employee can take to enforce the above rights. For instance, if the employee requests materials from the Plan and don′t receive them within 30 days, the employee may file a suit in a federal court. In such a case, the court may require the Plan Administrator to provide the materials and pay the employee up to $100 a day until the employee receives the materials, unless the materials were not sent because of reasons beyond the control of the Administrator. If the employee has a claim for benefits that is denied or ignored in whole or in part, the employee may file suit in a state or federal court. If the Plan fiduciaries misuse the Plan′s money, or if the employee is discriminated against for asserting their rights, the employee may seek assistance from the U.S. Department of Labor, or the employee may file suit in a federal court. The court will decide who should pay court costs and legal fees. If the employee is successful, the court may order the person the employee sued to pay these costs and fees. If the employee loses, the court may order the employee to pay these costs and fees, for example, if it finds the claim is frivolous.
If the employee has any questions about the Plan, the employee should contact the Plan Administrator. If the employee has any questions about this statement or about the employee’s rights under ERISA, the employee should contact the nearest Area Office of the U.S. Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration, Department of Labor.