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How ERISA protects workers' pensions

In Michigan and across the country, financial turmoil has engulfed many cities, counties and states to the point that some workers' pensions are in jeopardy. Many of these workers are public employees who only took certain jobs for the pension benefits. For private workers, ERISA is available to provide protection. ERISA stands for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Passed in 1974, this law is meant to protect assets of workers so they will have access to their retirement funds at their retirement.

There are minimum standards that private industries must put into place based on ERISA. If a company has a retirement plan, there are specific times when a worker is allowed to participate in that plan, how long they are required to work before there is an interest that cannot be forfeited, how long a person can be away from the job before the benefits are affected and if the spouse has a right to the benefits in the event of death.

Employers are not required to establish retirement plans for workers under ERISA. It is a law that sets standards for those who do establish a plan. There is no requirement for the amount of benefits that should be paid.

ERISA will require the plan to give participants information regarding the plan, including its funding and what features are in it. It must set various minimum standards for who can participate, when it vests, and how benefits are accumulated and funded. There must be fiduciary accountability for the plan. A fiduciary is anyone who has discretionary authority or control over managing the plan and its assets. If a fiduciary violates this, he or she might be responsible for the plan's restoration. Participants are allowed to sue of there is a violation of ERISA.

Source: dol.gov, "What is ERISA?," accessed on Sept. 15, 2015

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