You may be a college educated, middle-aged manager at a medium-sized tech company. You may have health insurance, be vested in your 401k and have life insurance through your employer. You may be vaguely aware that there exists some kind of disability insurance for you, somewhere. If you are lucky, you may even have a pension.

And while you may be very smart in the ways of management and processes and corporate hierarchy, you may have no idea of what ERISA is and why it matters to you.

3 basic facts about ERISA

  1. ERISA is an acronym that stands for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. It’s a federal law that applies to most but not all private employers. It does not apply to state, federal, church, tribal or government employees. ERISA protects employee’s pension, retirement and welfare benefit plans.
  2. ERISA is administered by the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) which is a part of the U.S. Department of Labor, The Treasury Department’s Internal Revenue Service and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
  3. Most private companies are bound by ERISA provisions. This means that there is intended oversight of the conduct of managed care such as an HMO.

Oversight involves holding companies accountable to the federal government. The company you work for must make certain disclosures to you as an employee including plan summaries and a benefits listing as well as benefits limitations.

There are also must be procedural safeguards in place (typically a written policy as to steps to file claim and appeals process).

Lastly, plan funds must be protected and delivered in the best financial interest of the plan members.

What to do if I am not getting the benefits I was promised?

ERISA can be complicated. It can be extremely frustrating to attempt to get information that is helpful to you from your employer or the third-party benefits entity. But it boils down to this: If you as an employee or beneficiary are having trouble getting the benefits (including FMLA and disability) promised you, or if you feel that your pension or retirement funds are being mismanaged or not paid out as they should be you may have a legal case. Employers who do not comply to ERISA rules are subject to sanctions and penalties.