As a long-term employee, it is important to know what is happening with your pension plan, but more importantly, what could happen. There is an enormous body of law that covers retirement plans, however, given its convoluted nature, a simple question or issue may require a lengthy and complex answer. Nonetheless, below, and following in later posts, is a condensed discussion of the general law and some of the more prominent issues that arise in the context of pension plans.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), established a comprehensive regulatory and remedial scheme designed with a curative aim to protect individual pension rights and is liberally construed to safeguard the interests of fund participants and beneficiaries and to preserve the integrity of fund assets.
ERISA’s policy is to protect the interests of employee-benefit plan participants and beneficiaries, by requiring the disclosure and reporting to them of financial and other plan information; by establishing standards of conduct, responsibility, and obligation for fiduciaries; by providing appropriate remedies, sanctions, and ready access to the federal courts; and by improving the equitable character and the soundness of such plans through requirements as to the vesting of accrued benefits of employees with significant periods of service, minimum standards as to funding, and a requirement as to coverage by plan termination insurance.
Pension funds are governed by ERISA and it is well established that ERISA displaces all state law purporting to relate to private pension plans. The statute, however, does not address many of the issues that arise in the normal course of the administration of such pension plans. Therefore, in a situation where the statute does not provide explicit instructions, it is well settled that Congress intended that the federal courts would fill in the gaps by developing, in light of reason, experience, and common sense, a federal common law of rights and obligations imposed by the statute.