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ERISA, Pension Funds & 401(k) Laws: Answers To FAQs

UPDATED: August 5, 2019

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How much do you know about ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act), pension funds and 401(k) s? If you’re like most of us, the answer is “not much.” To answer some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about these areas, we asked Ron Dean, a California attorney who has been practicing ERISA law for over 35 years:

Question: What laws protect employees from corporate mishandling of funds?

Answer: ERISA, the Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974, sets up an elaborate system of rules for how fiduciaries are to act – what they can and cannot do. There are even criminal penalties for serious violations. However, in these times of budget crunches, enforcement is spotty and so vigilance by the employees is very important

Question: How can an attorney help me?

Answer: An attorney can help get the information you need to decide if the funds have been mismanaged and can go over that information with you to decide if you have a case.

Question: How can I preserve the value of my case?

Answer: The sooner you seek legal help, the more likely it is that you can stop the mismanagement of the fund.

Question: When should I contact an attorney if I suspect my company of mismanaging funds?

Answer: As soon as possible. There’s only so much you can do without legal help. Contacting the U.S. Department of Labor is helpful in the big cases, but they usually just don’t have the resources to get involved in the smaller cases.

Question: What does hiring an attorney cost up front?

Answer: Many attorneys will help out in the initial stages either for free or for a minimal charge. Be absolutely sure to discuss this with the attorney from the get-go.

Question: Does an attorney’s experience really matter in these situations?

Answer: Oh boy, does it ever. You need a lawyer who’s ‘been there and done that.’ These are complicated cases and ERISA has been described as one of the most complex statutes ever passed by Congress. It’s like heart surgery. You want someone who’s very very good.

If you’ve been denied valid benefits under ERISA, consult with an experienced ERISA attorney to discuss your situation and evaluate your options. Consultations are free, without obligation and strictly confidential.

Ron Dean
Contributing Author: Attorney Ron Dean Erisa Law Attorney

Ronald Dean has been engaged in employee benefits litigation primarily on behalf of participants for over 37 years. He is currently a member of the Board of Senior Editors of the ABA/BNA text, Employee Benefits Law, on the Advisory Board of BNA Pension and Benefits Reporter, and on the Advisory Board for ALI-ABA’s Employee Benefits Programs. He is a Fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers, a Charter Fellow of the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, and a member of its Board of Directors from 2001 to 2007. He was named by the National Law Journal as one of the top forty benefits lawyers in the country, and by Southern California Super Lawyers as one of 12 Employee Benefits “Super” lawyers in Southern California. Mr. Dean was trial and appellate counsel in 15 published Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinions involving ERISA issues. He is a frequent lecturer for the American Bar Association's CLE programs as well as those of ALI-ABA, Glasser LegalWorks, the Law Education Institute and the Western Pension & Benefits Conference.

Article last updated or revieewed on August 5, 2019