Seattle University
Human Resources Policy Manual

Appendix B: ERISA

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a federal law that covers the following University plans: health care, life insurance, disability insurance, and the retirement plan. An employee is entitled to review and receive information about the University's plans (see Sections 5.2 through 5.8 for plan outlines). Plan information is provided to employees in their benefits information packet.

ERISA ensures that employees receive benefits promised by their employers and that tax-favored pension plans do not favor the highest-paid employees in the way benefits are provided.

ERISA imposes duties on the people who are responsible for the operation of the employee benefit plans and creates rights for plan participants. The administrators of the employee 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 an employer, may fire employees or otherwise discriminate against employees in any way to prevent them from obtaining welfare benefits or exercising their rights under ERISA. If an employee's claims for welfare benefits are denied in whole or in part, the employee must receive a written explanation of the reasons for the denials. Employees have the right to have the plan reviewed and reconsidered, in light of their claims.

There are steps employees can take to enforce their ERISA rights. For instance, if an employee requests materials from the plan and does not receive them within thirty (30) days, he may file suit in a federal court. In such a case, the court may require the Plan Administrator to provide the materials and pay employees up to $100 a day until the materials are received unless the materials were not sent because of reasons beyond the control of the Plan Administrator.

Employees may file suit in a state or federal court if they have a claim for benefits that is in whole or in part denied or ignored. Employees may seek assistance from the U.S. Department of Labor or they may file suit in a federal court if plan fiduciaries misuse the plan's money, or if employees are discriminated against for asserting their rights. The court decides who should pay court costs and legal fees. The court may order the person being sued to pay these costs and fees if employees are successful. If employees lose, the court may order them to pay these costs and fees. Employees should contact the nearest area office of the U. S. Department of Labor with any questions about the plan.

ERISA provides that all plan participants are entitled to:

  1. Examine without charge all plan documents at the Plan Administrator's office. This includes insurance contracts and copies of all documents filed by the plan with the U. S. Department of Labor, such as detailed annual reports and plan descriptions.
  2. Obtain copies of all plan documents and other plan information on written request to the Plan Administrator; the Plan Administrator may charge a reasonable amount for the copies.
  3. Receive a summary of the plan's annual financial report (the Plan Administrator is required by law to furnish each participant with a copy of this annual report summary)

Resources

Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA): http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/health-plans/erisa.htm

 

Last modified on Monday, June 22, 2009