ERISA: What is it? And how does it protect your retirement funds?

The Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, commonly called ERISA, is a federal law that establishes standards for protecting the retirement funds of millions of Americans who work in private industry. There is no requirement under ERISA that employers must provide a pension plan, but employers who do establish retirement plans — a 401(k), for example — must the meet the minimum standards under the law.

For example, ERISA addresses these issues, among others:

  • How long you have to work before you’re eligible to participate in the pension plan, accrue benefits and have an unforfeitable right to collect benefits
  • The length of time you can be away from work before your retirement benefit is affected
  • In the event of your death, whether your spouse is entitled to part of the pension
  • The obligation of the plan to provide important information to participants

ERISA also provides accountability rules for pension plan fiduciaries, and under the law, plan participants can sue for breach of fiduciary duty. These cases are often called fee and gatekeeper cases. Shepherd, Finkelman, Miller & Shah has led the way in litigating these cases, particularly in class action lawsuits that have challenged revenue sharing practices and disclosures.

Our overview of litigation involving 401(k) fees and gatekeepers has a list of some of the cases in which SFMS has served as lead counsel. Attorneys at SFMS also have significant experience in working with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Labor in ERISA litigation. With offices in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, we represent clients in courts throughout the United States, including the U.S. Supreme Court.