ERISA Plan? How Do You Know?

Fort Worth lawyers who handle ERISA plans have learned that almost all companies that have their own employee insurance plans will claim they are ERISA plans. The real question though is – are they?
Knowing which employee plans are true ERISA plans and which are not is not always easy to discovery. There are two sections of 29 USC that are helpful in this regard.
Sec. 1022. Summary plan description
(a) A summary plan description of any employee benefit plan shall be furnished to participants and beneficiaries as provided in section 1024(b) of this title. The summary plan description shall include the information described in subsection (b) of this section, shall be written in a manner calculated to be understood by the average plan participant, and shall be sufficiently accurate and comprehensive to reasonably apprise such participants and beneficiaries of their rights and obligations under the plan. A summary of any material modification in the terms of the plan and any change in the information required under subsection (b) of this section shall be written in a manner calculated to be understood by the average plan participant and shall be furnished in accordance with section 1024(b)(1) of this title.
(b) The summary plan description shall contain the following information: The name and type of administration of the plan; in the case of a group health plan (as defined in section 1191b(a)(1) of this title), whether a health insurance issuer (as defined in section 1191b(b)(2) of this title) is responsible for the financing or administration (including payment of claims) of the plan and (if so) the name and address of such issuer; the name and address of the person designated as agent for the service of legal process, if such person is not the administrator; the name and address of the administrator; names, titles, and addresses of any trustee or trustees (if they are persons different from the administrator); a description of the relevant provisions of any applicable collective bargaining agreement; the plan’s requirements respecting eligibility for participation and benefits; a description of the provisions providing for nonforfeitable pension benefits; circumstances which may result in disqualification, ineligibility, or denial or loss of benefits; the source of financing of the plan and the identity of any organization through which benefits are provided; the date of the end of the plan year and whether the records of the plan are kept on a calendar, policy, or fiscal year basis; the procedures to be followed in presenting claims for benefits under the plan including the office at the Department of Labor through which participants and beneficiaries may seek assistance or information regarding their rights under this chapter and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 with respect to health benefits that are offered through a group health plan (as defined in section 1191b(a)(1) of this title), the remedies available under the plan for the redress of claims which are denied in whole or in part (including procedures required under section 1133 of this title), and if the employer so elects for purposes of complying with section 1181(f)(3)(B)(i) of this title, the model notice applicable to the State in which the participants and beneficiaries reside.
Sec. 1081. Coverage
(a) Plans excepted from applicability of this part This part shall apply to any employee pension benefit plan described in section 1003(a) of this title, (and not exempted under section 1003(b) of this title), other than –
(1) an employee welfare benefit plan;
(2) an insurance contract plan described in subsection (b) of this section;
(3) a plan which is unfunded and is maintained by an employer primarily for the purpose of providing deferred compensation for a select group of management or highly compensated employees;
(4)(A) a plan which is established and maintained by a society, order, or association described in section 501(c)(8) or (9) of title 26, if no part of the contributions to or under such plan are made by employers of participants in such plan; or (B) a trust described in section 501(c)(18) of title 26;
(5) a plan which has not at any time after September 2, 1974, provided for employer contributions;
(6) an agreement providing payments to a retired partner or deceased partner or a deceased partner’s successor in interest as described in section 736 of title 26;
(7) an individual retirement account or annuity as described in section 408(a) of title 26, or a retirement bond described in section 409 of title 26 (as effective for obligations issued before January 1, 1984);
(8) an individual account plan (other than a money purchase plan) and a defined benefit plan to the extent it is treated as an individual account plan (other than a money purchase plan) under section 1002(35)(B) of this title;
(9) an excess benefit plan; or (10) any plan, fund or program under which an employer, all of whose stock is directly or indirectly owned by employees, former employees or their beneficiaries, proposes through an unfunded arrangement to compensate retired employees for benefits which were forfeited by such employees under a pension plan maintained by a former employer prior to the date such pension plan became subject to this chapter.
(b) “Insurance contract plan” defined For the purposes of paragraph (2) of subsection (a) of this section a plan is an “insurance contract plan” if –
(1) the plan is funded exclusively by the purchase of individual insurance contracts,
(2) such contracts provide for level annual premium payments to be paid extending not later than the retirement age for each individual participating in the plan, and commencing with the date the individual became a participant in the plan (or, in the case of an increase in benefits, commencing at the time such increase became effective), (3) benefits provided by the plan are equal to the benefits provided under each contract at normal retirement age under the plan and are guaranteed by an insurance carrier (licensed under the laws of a State to do business with the plan) to the extent premiums have been paid,
(4) premiums payable for the plan year, and all prior plan years under such contracts have been paid before lapse or there is reinstatement of the policy,
(5) no rights under such contracts have been subject to a security interest at any time during the plan year, and (6) no policy loans are outstanding at any time during the plan year. A plan funded exclusively by the purchase of group insurance contracts which is determined under regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury to have the same characteristics as contracts described in the preceding sentence shall be treated as a plan described in this subsection.

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