Understanding Your Pension Rights: What Every Pension Participant Should Know

Pension plans are complicated. There are many types of plans, each governed by its own terms. What's more, a complex federal law – called the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (or ERISA) – governs most plans in the private sector. This law is the source of important pension rights for plan participants.

Some of the most important pension rights include:

  • The right to receive a summary plan description, which must describe (in understandable terms):
    • How the plan works
    • Who is responsible for administering the plan
    • How benefits and payouts are calculated
    • When your benefits will become vested
    • How to file a claim for benefits
    • How to appeal a denial of your claim
    • How your benefits will be handled in the event of a layoff
  • The right to receive regular pension statements, which, depending on the type of plan, must include information such as your total benefits and the amount that's vested
  • The right to a swift decision on your pension claim (usually within 90 days)
  • The right to an explanation of the reasons your claim was denied
  • The right to request a review of your denial of benefits (provided you follow the right procedures within a certain time frame)
  • The right to file a lawsuit to enforce your rights (although you generally must try to resolve the issue with the plan administrator first)
  • The right to enhanced benefits if your plan has a "change in control" through a merger, sale or acquisition (depending on the terms of your plan)

In addition, you may have other important rights, whether under ERISA or the terms of your individual plan.

Common Violations And How To Handle Them

Because many pension plans have numerous participants, violations often affect a large number of people. Class action claims are an effective tool for righting these wrongs. They often involve situations such as:

  • Miscalculation of benefits or lump-sum payouts (as a result of using the wrong vesting schedule, the wrong mortality rates or the wrong interest discount rates, for example)
  • Wrongful reduction in benefits for a large number of participants
  • Cuts to benefits in underfunded multiemployer pension plans
  • Loss of benefits after a plant/facility closing or plan termination
  • A "change in control" under the terms of the pension plan that doesn't trigger enhanced benefits, even though it should under the plan's terms
  • Attempts to reclaim allegedly overpaid benefits from a large number of plan participants
  • Losses due to mismanagement of funds, imprudent investments, excessive administrative expenses, or self-dealing on the part of plan administrators

At Hertz Schram, our pension lawyers have a wealth of experience handling class action claims on behalf of plan participants. We're not afraid to take a stand against large companies, including Fortune 500 companies. Our dedication has resulted in recoveries totaling more than $120 million for plan participants and their families nationwide.

Knowledge Is Power

How do you know if your pension rights have been violated? Learn more about what to look for, and get answers to other frequently asked questions.

We also encourage you to contact our lead pension attorney Eva Cantarella at 866-775-5987 for a free consultation. We have a proven track record of fighting for the rights of pension plan participants nationwide, including Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Ohio. No matter where you're located, you can rely on our attorneys for guidance and answers.