Fact Sheet: What Is ERISA

U.S. Department of Labor
Employee Benefits Security Administration

ERISA protects the interests of employee benefit plan participants and their beneficiaries. It requires plan sponsors to provide plan information to participants. It establishes standards of conduct for plan managers and other fiduciaries. It establishes enforcement provisions to ensure that plan funds are protected and that qualifying participants receive their benefits, even if a company goes bankrupt.

Who does it protect?

ERISA covers retirement plans and welfare benefit plans. In FY 2013, ERISA encompassed roughly 684,000 retirement plans, 2.4 million health plans and 2.4 million additional welfare benefit plans. These plans cover about 141 million workers and beneficiaries, and include more than $7.6 trillion in assets. About 54 percent of America’s workers earn retirement benefits on the job, and 59 percent earn health benefits.

When was it passed?

ERISA was passed by the House of Representatives on Feb. 28, passed by the Senate on March 4, and signed by President Gerald Ford on Sept. 2, 1974. It has been amended several times since in responses to the changing needs of America’s workers and their families.

Why is it important?

ERISA protects retirement savings from mismanagement and abuse, and clarifies that those in charge of those savings be held to a high standard – that is, they must act in the best interests of plan participants. It also requires transparency and accountability, ensuring that participants have access to information about their plans. More than half of America’s workers earn health benefits on the job, and ERISA protects those too, as well as other employee benefits.

How is it enforced?

ERISA is administered and enforced by three bodies: the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration, the Treasury Department’s Internal Revenue Service, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

This fact sheet has been developed by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration, Washington, DC 20210. It will be made available in alternate formats upon request: Voice telephone: (202) 693-8664; TTY: (202) 501-3911. In addition, the information in this fact sheet constitutes a small entity compliance guide for purposes of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996.