2023/2024 ERISA Compliance Checklist
Compliance requirements are so numerous that many HR pros worry that a required notice could slip between the cracks. When it comes to ERISA in particular, a thorough checklist can help you stay compliant.
So, what is ERISA, and what do you need to know to remain compliant with its provisions? Read on to find out.
What Is ERISA?
ERISA is the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. It’s a federal law that establishes minimum standards for most retirement and healthcare plans in the private sector. Enforced by the Department of Labor, the law is designed to protect employees who enroll in these employer-sponsored benefits.
ERISA noncompliance can be costly to organizations that offer qualified plans.
What Plans Are Covered Under ERISA?
Any retirement plan that provides either retirement income in the future or the opportunity for employees to contribute current wages to retirement is an ERISA plan. Major plans covered under ERISA include:
- Major medical plans
- Prescription benefits
- Specific EAPs
- Wellness programs
- Cancer policies
Plans that do not fall under ERISA primarily include pensions or other plans provided by the U.S. government, state or local governments, and churches.
While ERISA compliance is demanding, it doesn't have to be confusing. Requirements fall into two main categories: ongoing and calendar-based.
ERISA Compliance Ongoing Requirements
Several ERISA requirements are ongoing or met as needed. They're not bound by specific deadlines, but must be maintained at all times or become applicable when certain events occur. These fiduciary responsibilities include:
- Deposits. All loan payments and employee elective deferrals should be deposited on time. Many administrators make these deposits at the same time as payroll taxes.
- Enrollment opportunities. Once an employee has met the plan age and service requirements, you must give them the opportunity to enroll in the plan. You should provide all necessary instructions and forms to them, as well as any applicable notices and a Summary Plan Description.
- Loan repayments. All outstanding loans must be repaid according to the borrower’s promissory note and the plan’s policy terms.
- Notices of plan changes. Administrators must notify participants of any plan changes 30-90 days prior to the change’s effective date.
- Participant fee disclosures. Send a fee disclosure annually to all participants with an account balance. This applies to all plan-eligible and terminated employees and their beneficiaries.
- Plan documents. Management of the plan must adhere closely to the terms of the plan document. Any deviation could lead to disqualification by the IRS.
- Quarterly management. Use any unallocated forfeitures. Process any loan defaults, and cash out the account balances of any terminated employees.
Of course, the requirements above are not necessarily scheduled, but using the checklist should help you make sure nothing is overlooked.
ERISA Compliance Calendar Requirements
Many ERISA requirements, however, are regularly scheduled. Here’s a checklist broken down by each quarter of the plan year:
- Within 45 days, distribute fourth-quarter benefits statements to plan participants.
- Provide a Summary Annual Report for the prior year to participants.
- An updated Summary Plan Description must be provided to participants if the plan document changed in the previous year.
- Prior-year Form 5500 must be filed—or, for an extension, file Form 5558.
- Within 45 days, distribute second-quarter benefits statements to participants.
- Excise tax (10%) must be paid.
- Correct any ADP/ACP nondiscrimination test failures.
- Send the following notices to applicable participants: automatic enrollment, Qualified Default Investment Alternative, changes to or installments of a safe harbor 401(k) plan.
- Within 45 days, distribute third-quarter benefits statements to participants.
Although some requirements are specific to your plan year, you can easily schedule them out on a compliance calendar with other important HR dates and distribute them via an HRIS such as BerniePortal. Look to the Department of Labor for a detailed list of possible penalties for noncompliance.
What Else Can HR Do to Ensure ERISA Compliance?
ERISA compliance can be a burden, especially if you’re trying to manage it alone, but it is possible. If you’re overwhelmed by ERISA and other compliance requirements, you might consider working with a third-party administrator.
An all-in-one human resources information system (HRIS) like BerniePortal can also help you manage the administrative strain. You can also stay informed, educated, and up-to-date with employer compliance using BerniePortal’s comprehensive resources:
- BerniePortal Blog—a one-stop-shop for HR industry news
- HR Glossary—featuring the most common HR terms, acronyms, and compliance
- HR Guides—essential pillars, covering an extensive list of comprehensive HR topics
- BernieU—free online HR courses, approved for SHRM and HRCI recertification credit
- HR Party of One—our popular YouTube series and podcast, covering emerging HR trends and enduring HR topics
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