The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a federal law in the United States that sets standards for the protection of individuals who participate in employee benefit plans, including pension plans and health benefit plans. ERISA was enacted to ensure that employees receive the benefits they are promised and to establish standards of conduct for those managing and overseeing these plans.

Key features of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) include:

1. **Protection of Employee Benefits:**
– ERISA sets minimum standards for the operation and management of private-sector employee benefit plans, including retirement plans, health plans, and welfare benefit plans. The law aims to protect the interests of participants and beneficiaries in these plans.

2. **Disclosure Requirements:**
– Plan administrators are required to provide participants with information about the plan’s features and funding, including plan documents, summary plan descriptions, and annual reports. This information helps participants make informed decisions about their benefits.

3. **Fiduciary Responsibilities:**
– ERISA imposes fiduciary responsibilities on those who manage and control plan assets. Fiduciaries must act prudently and solely in the interest of the participants and beneficiaries. They are also prohibited from engaging in certain transactions that could harm the plan.

4. **Minimum Vesting Standards:**
– ERISA sets minimum standards for vesting, which refers to the ownership of accrued benefits by employees. Vesting rules ensure that employees have a nonforfeitable right to their accrued benefits after a certain period of service.

5. **Funding Requirements for Pension Plans:**
– For defined benefit pension plans, ERISA establishes funding requirements to ensure that the plan has sufficient assets to meet its future obligations. The law sets guidelines for the calculation of liabilities and funding levels.

6. **PBGC Insurance:**
– The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) was created by ERISA to provide insurance for certain defined benefit pension plans. In the event of plan termination, the PBGC guarantees payment of basic pension benefits, subject to certain limitations.

7. **Health Plan Continuation (COBRA):**
– ERISA includes provisions related to the continuation of health plan coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). COBRA allows qualified beneficiaries to continue their health coverage for a certain period after certain qualifying events.

8. **Claims Procedure:**
– ERISA establishes a claims procedure that requires plans to provide a reasonable opportunity for participants to appeal benefit denials. This procedure aims to ensure fair and transparent handling of benefit claims.

9. **Employee Retirement Plans:**
– ERISA covers various types of retirement plans, including pension plans, 401(k) plans, profit-sharing plans, and individual retirement accounts (IRAs). The law sets standards for plan administration, vesting, funding, and other aspects.

10. **Enforcement and Remedies:**
– ERISA provides participants and beneficiaries with rights to enforce their benefits and seek remedies for violations of the law. This may include filing lawsuits to recover benefits or other relief.

ERISA is administered and enforced by the Department of Labor (DOL), and it applies to private employers that offer employee benefit plans. While ERISA primarily addresses private-sector plans, certain provisions may apply to government and church plans as well. The law has been amended over the years to address evolving issues in the employee benefits landscape.