What is ERISA?
ERISA stands for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, a federal law enacted in 1974 that sets minimum standards for pension plans in the private industry. The law also contains rules governing the tax effects of transactions associated with employee benefit plans.
Governmental and church plans are exempt from ERISA’s mandates
ERISA exempts many benefit plans from its mandates, including governmental and church programs. However, this can create litigation risks. Consult qualified ERISA counsel before determining whether to seek to exempt a project.
In 1980, Congress added a “church plans” category to the ERISA list of exemptions. Principal-purpose organizations, such as churches and nonprofits, maintain these plans. These organizations must provide some of the funds for the Plan. These funds can be generated from the organization’s internal funds, affiliated entities, or constituent churches.
In recent years, several lawsuits have challenged the government agencies’ view of the “church plan” exemption. Among the plaintiffs’ arguments is the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prevents federal regulation of a religious organization. In addition, they argue that ERISA’s definition of a “church plan” was too narrow and failed to apply to religiously-affiliated nonprofit organizations.
The Department of Labor, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation have long read the church plan provisions. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) is a law that regulates employee benefits and health care plans. Internal funds provide the majority of funds for the Plan. The Plan must meet specific minimum standards, including pre-existing condition exclusion requirements, group plan guaranteed issue, and continuation of health coverage.
Fines for non-compliance with ERISA
ERISA fines can be extremely high. Many factors can contribute to an individual’s or a company’s penalties. These include how willfully the violation was committed, the extent of the breach, and whether the violation was intentional or accidental. There are also criminal penalties for willful ERISA violations.
The Department of Labor (DOL) recently increased the ERISA penalties for plans. The amount of the penalty has been adjusted to reflect inflation. These penalties will remain in effect until the subsequent inflation adjustment is made. The DOL is required to change the penalties for inflation every year.
The DOL’s annual penalty increase will impact plans that do not comply with ERISA regulations. Plan sponsors are subject to penalties if they willfully fail to comply with specific law provisions.
The most common ERISA violation is failing to provide a Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) to plan participants. This can result in a fine of $1190 per incident. In addition, if the failure is not corrected within 90 days, the plan administrator will be penalized an additional $1,000.
Another common ERISA violation is failing to provide documents to the DOL. This can result in a daily penalty of $110. In some cases, the DOL will have the discretion to impose lower penalties.