Business of Well-being

The Top 10 ERISA Compliance Mistakes

In the modern era, navigating the world of employment law, particularly with regard to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), has become one of the most pressing concerns for businesses of all sizes. The significance of ERISA compliance stems from the mounting array of employee benefits that employers are obligated to offer and the intricate web of laws and regulations that govern them. Despite the pivotal role ERISA plays in ensuring the rights of employees, there is an alarming frequency of unintentional violations among employers and plan sponsors, leading to hefty penalties, costly litigation, and irreparable reputational damage.

To better equip industry professionals in traversing this intricate terrain and avoiding common pitfalls, we present a comprehensive guide detailing the top 10 ERISA compliance mistakes, alongside practical strategies to avoid these errors.

1. Insufficient Plan Documentation

An overwhelming number of ERISA violations stem from insufficient or improper plan documentation. ERISA imposes stringent record-keeping requirements for all plan-related documents, from Summary Plan Descriptions (SPDs), plan amendments, to annual reports. A failure to have these records meticulously organized, readily accessible, and updated regularly can invite severe compliance issues. Avoid this pitfall by establishing robust record-keeping processes and regularly auditing your documents for compliance.

2. Failure to Provide Timely Disclosures

ERISA mandates that plan participants and beneficiaries must receive timely and accurate information regarding their benefit plans. This obligation includes the provision of SPDs, Summary of Material Modifications (SMMs), and other critical notices. A breach in this area, often due to oversight or administrative errors, can result in compliance violations. Ensure that your systems and processes are designed to automatically track and trigger all necessary disclosures within the prescribed timelines.

3. Neglecting Regular Compliance Testing

ERISA necessitates regular compliance testing to ensure that the plan does not discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees or top-heavy key employees. It also ensures that the plan doesn't exceed the maximum contribution limits set by ERISA. Ignoring or delaying these tests often leads to expensive correction procedures and penalties. To counter this, adopt a proactive stance towards compliance testing, making it a fixed component of your annual compliance calendar.

4. Inadequate Tracking of Participant Loans

Many plan sponsors allow participant loans, but ERISA has stringent rules about their administration, including maximum amounts, repayment terms, and interest rates. If these loans are not properly tracked and administered, it can result in deemed distributions and unexpected tax liabilities for participants. Implement a rigorous loan policy and tracking system to mitigate this risk.

5. Ignoring ERISA Bonding Requirements

Every person handling funds or other property of an employee benefit plan must be covered by a fidelity bond, as per ERISA. This requirement is often overlooked, leading to compliance failures. Ensure your organization understands these bonding requirements and procures the necessary coverage for all relevant personnel.

6. Misinterpretation of Plan Compensation Definition

Every plan has its definition of compensation eligible for benefits. Misinterpretations or inaccuracies in applying these definitions can lead to incorrect contribution calculations and discrimination testing failures. Regular training and updates for your HR and payroll teams can help them stay abreast of these definitions, reducing the risk of mistakes.

7. Delays in Depositing Employee Deferrals

ERISA stipulates that employee deferrals must be deposited as soon as they can be reasonably segregated from the employer's general assets, but no later than the 15th business day of the month following the month in which the contributions were withheld. Delaying these deposits is a common mistake that can be prevented with an efficient payroll system and clear communication between the payroll and benefits administration teams.

8. Absence of a Formal Claims and Appeal Procedure

Every plan is obligated to establish a formal procedure for handling benefit claims and appeals. Not having such a procedure, or not following it properly, can lead to significant compliance issues and potential litigation. Invest time and resources in creating and implementing robust claims and appeal procedures and provide ongoing training to your staff to ensure proper execution.

9. Inadequate Fiduciary Oversight

Fiduciaries under ERISA are required to discharge their duties prudently and solely in the interest of plan participants. However, failures in maintaining proper fiduciary oversight, including the selection and monitoring of plan investments and service providers, can lead to significant liability. Regular fiduciary training and retaining outside experts can help maintain the highest standards of fiduciary conduct.

10. Neglecting Plan Audits

For plans with 100 or more participants, ERISA requires an annual audit by an independent qualified public accountant. Ignoring these audit requirements can lead to heavy penalties and even plan disqualification. Develop a relationship with a competent auditor and make these audits a central part of your compliance strategy.

The compliance landscape under ERISA is complex and fraught with potential pitfalls. The task of ensuring compliance might seem monumental, but with proper planning, robust systems, and expert guidance, you can successfully navigate it.

You don't have to face the challenges of ERISA compliance alone. Global Healthcare Resources, a seasoned leader in wellness consulting, is equipped with a deep understanding of regulatory frameworks, including ERISA. Our expert team can guide you through compliance audits, diligent record-keeping, accurate reporting, and effective plan management - all essential components in maintaining ERISA compliance.

Don't let your organization become another ERISA compliance statistic. Partner with Global Healthcare Resources, and let us help you meet your ERISA obligations, reduce your risk, and foster a healthy, productive work environment.

Explore how we can elevate your business. Visit us at Global Healthcare Resources Wellness Consulting to learn more.

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