The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requires plan administrators - the people who run plans - to give plan participants in writing the most important facts they need to know about their retirement and health benefit plans including plan rules, financial information, and documents on the operation and management of the plan. Some of these facts must be provided to participants regularly and automatically by the plan administrator. Others are available upon request, free-of-charge, or for copying fees. The request should be made in writing.
One of the most important documents participants are entitled to receive automatically when becoming a participant of an ERISA-covered retirement or health benefit plan or a beneficiary receiving benefits under such a plan, is a summary of the plan, called the summary plan description or SPD. The plan administrator is legally obligated to provide to participants, free of charge, the SPD. The summary plan description is an important document that tells participants what the plan provides and how it operates. It provides information on when an employee can begin to participate in the plan, how service and benefits are calculated, when benefits becomes vested, when and in what form benefits are paid, and how to file a claim for benefits. If a plan is changed, participants must be informed, either through a revised summary plan description, or in a separate document, called a summary of material modifications, which also must be given to participants free of charge.
In addition to the summary plan description, the plan administrator must automatically give participants a copy of the plan's summary annual report each year. This is a summary of the annual financial report that most plans must file with the Department of Labor. These reports are filed on government forms called the Form 5500. The summary annual report is available at no cost. To learn more about the plan assets, participants may ask the plan administrator for a copy of the annual report in its entirety.
If participants are unable to get the summary plan description, the summary annual report or the annual report from the plan administrator, they may be able to obtain a copy by writing to the U.S. Department of Labor, EBSA, Public Disclosure Room, Room N-1513, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210, for a nominal copying charge. Participants should provide their name, address, and phone number to enable EBSA to contact them to follow up on their request.
DOL Web Pages on This Topic
Consumer Information on Pension Plans Provides fact sheets, booklets, and other pension plan information from the Department's Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA).
Consumer Information on Health Plans Provides fact sheets, booklets, and other health plan information from EBSA.
Compliance Assistance Provides publications and other materials to assist employers and employee benefit plan practitioners in understanding and complying with the requirements of ERISA as it applies to the administration of employee pension and welfare benefit plans.
ERISA Filing Acceptance System (EFAST) The EFAST system streamlines filing and processing of the annual return/report forms through the use of computer scannable forms and electronic filing technologies. This Web site provides assistance on using this system.
Filing a Claim for Your Retirement Benefits Explains the steps you may take to file a claim and what to do if you are denied benefits.
How to Obtain Employee Benefit Plan Documents from the Department of Labor Describes the documents and materials available through the EBSA public disclosure room and how you can obtain the documents from them.
Protect Your Pension: A Quick Reference Guide Provides an overview of the federal rules that protect pension plans, including 10 warning signs that your 401(k) contributions are being misused.
Questions & Answers: EFAST - ERISA Filing Acceptance System Provides answers to commonly asked questions about the EFAST system.
Retirement and Health Care Coverage: Questions and Answers for Dislocated Workers Provides answers to commonly asked questions from dislocated workers about their retirement and health plan benefits.
Troubleshooter's Guide to Filing the ERISA Annual Report (Form 5500) (PDF) Provides information about the changes in reporting under EFAST and how to avoid errors most commonly made by filers.
What You Should Know About Your Retirement Plan Provides information to help answer many of the most common questions about retirement plans.
Your Employer's Bankruptcy: How Will it Affect Your Employee Benefit? Focuses on bankruptcy's effect on pension plans and group health plans.