John A. Klassen, PA Minnesota Employment Law Attorney
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ERISA and how it protects Minnesota employees

It is important for workers in Minnesota to understand the various laws that are in place to protect them and provide them with employee benefits in the present and in the future. One particular law that is meant to ensure retirement funds are protected is ERISA. ERISA stands for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Passed in 1974, it is designed to make certain that the person's retirement plans will be available at the time they choose to retire. With ERISA, there are minimum standards that private companies have to follow.

If there is a retirement plan at a job, ERISA will say when the worker is allowed to join it, how long the worker has to be at the job before there is a non-forfeitable interest in the benefit, how long the worker can be away from the job before it affects the benefits, and if the spouse is able to be part of the benefits package after death. ERISA does not force employers to establish any retirement plan. It simply makes sure that when there is a retirement plan, it adheres to the applicable standards.

With ERISA, the plan must give information to those taking part in it. This will include features of the plan and how it is funded. There must be certain pieces of information provided to the members on a regular basis and do so automatically. Some are free and some must be paid for. There are minimum standards for various aspects and the law will state the amount of time a person must work before there is eligibility to take part. Plan fiduciaries are accountable. Anyone who has what is known as discretionary authority or control over the management of the plan will be considered a fiduciary.

Those taking part in ERISA are allowed to sue for benefits or if there was a breach of fiduciary duty. There will also be a payment of certain benefits if the defined plan ends. This goes through the federally chartered Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. People who are concerned over ERISA and employee rights when there might be an issue or confusion can get an advocate who is familiar with this entire process. Speaking to a legal professional experienced with ERISA can help.

Source: dol.gov, "FAQs About Retirement Plans And ERISA -- What is ERISA?," accessed on Jan. 26, 2016

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