ERISA Compliance

Making sure your employees understand their benefits and rights under the law.

All services / ERISA Compliance

Communication that is ERISA compliant does more than keep the government from your doorstep. It helps your benefit plan participants understand, use and appreciate their benefits. And that leads to better results.

What is ERISA?

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) was enacted to protect the rights of private-sector employee benefit plan participants. Employee benefit plans include retirement plans (pension, 401(k)), as well as group health and welfare plans (life, accident, disability). The law:

  • Sets minimum standards for coverage and benefits, and requires plans to establish a formal appeals process for claimants.
  • Requires people or companies responsible for plan management or plan assets (fiduciaries) to do so solely in the interest of participants and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits and paying expenses of the plan.
  • Requires the people or companies running the plan to give participants and beneficiaries timely, accurate and easy-to-understand plan information.

It’s this last requirement PartnerComm can help you with.

While our true joy is creating eye-catching, award-winning communication that gets your employees’ attention and keeps it focused on the value of your benefits, that’s not all we do. We are also type A, detail-oriented experts determined to create communication that is accurate and easy-to-understand. We are so detail-oriented that our standard approach includes a rigorous review process, including proofreading, consulting peer review and legal review by our ERISA attorneys.

Why is ERISA compliance important?

While there are significant monetary penalties for ERISA non-compliance, the worst penalty is not a dollar amount. The worst that can happen is that your employees can’t understand how your benefits work, so they don’t take advantage of them. Their lack of understanding leads to lack of appreciation and all the money you spend on benefits has little positive effect on your ability to attract and retain top performers, and thus on your bottom line.

We can help you position your benefit options in a way that’s accessible to your employees, while being technically accurate and legally compliant.

How can PartnerComm help?

PartnerComm is unique in that we provide our clients with an in-house team of human resources and benefits experts who can write extremely well, paired with innovative designers and ERISA attorneys. Our writers have years of experience developing all types of communication, from websites to print, video to text messaging and everything in between. We have consulting writers who are CEBS- and WorldatWork-certified, meaning they are thoroughly trained in how benefit plans work, and how to explain them in a way employees understand and appreciate.

Talented and knowledgeable consulting writers, working in tandem with outstanding designers, make the content come alive for employees.

Once the material is written and designed, we rely on our ERISA attorneys to ensure accuracy hasn’t been compromised for the sake of creativity. Our legal staff members are grounded in benefit plan administration, DOL compliance and investigation. They review our final products from a technical standpoint — looking for any potential ERISA compliance issues that may come up on our clients’ behalf — especially in technical documents such as summaries of material modifications (SMMs) and summary plan descriptions (SPDs). We also help you determine the best way to deliver your benefit materials for your employee population, whether it be by mail, hand delivery or electronic delivery. It may even differ by population. You may need to deliver print materials to some employees, while electronic delivery may be preferred by other audiences.

To discuss how we can help communicate the value of your benefits to your employees and their covered family members while being sure you are staying compliant, contact us!

Why is timing important?

In addition to providing accurate and easy-to-understand benefits information to employees, ERISA requires the information to be timely. For example, SPDs need to be provided to new participants within 90 days after becoming eligible to receive benefits. An updated SPD needs to be provided every 10 years if there are no changes (as if), and every 5 years if there are changes. In the meantime, whenever there are substantive changes, you must provide a summary of material modifications (SMM) no later than 210 days after the end of the plan year the change was effective. There are also various notices that are required to be provided throughout the plan year, such as Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act (WHCRA) notices. For an exhaustive listing of notices and timelines, see ebsa.gov/reportinganddisclosure. We can discuss your current benefit plan documents and necessary updates, and work out a compliance plan for getting (and keeping) all your documents up-to-date.

How do you get started?

If you’re new in your role and just starting to figure out if you’re compliant on your employee communications, particularly your SPDs and SMMs, this simple checklist can help:

Plan name Type of plan (health & welfare, retirement) Latest SPD year SMMs for all changes since last SPD? (Y/N) Need work?
Medical plan (self-funded) health 2015 2017, 2019 yes

Reach out to an expert today.