First things first, when we say "plan document," we mean your formal, ERISA-compliant wrap document. An ERISAfire-prepared plan document does two important things:
1. It satisfies documentation requirements of both ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code by combining three benefits documents into one for easier plan document administration:
ERISA plan document (aka wrap doc)
Wrap summary plan description (SPD)
Section 125 premium-only-plan (POP)
2. It functions as a comprehensive risk management tool—a sort of compliance insurance policy, if you will—having been crafted by experienced ERISA attorneys who have proverbially seen it all.
Best Practice: Annually Update Your Plan Document
If your only goal is bare minimum compliance with ERISA's documentation requirements and not any other legal requirements or compliance risks, you may not need updates every year. (More on that below.) However, if your interest is managing compliance risk for peace of mind, then it's best to be in a regular rhythm of annual restatements.
ERISAfire's seasoned professionals are constantly analyzing legislative, regulatory and judicial developments in employee benefits for their effects on employers. Often, well-crafted plan language can minimize that effect. Other times those developments simply require additional or different plan document language.
In addition, as new carriers and vendors are implemented and benefit design changes are made, there are sometimes necessary plan document changes. More than that, though, a plan document restatement provides an opportunity for ERISAfire's professionals to conduct an issue-spotting compliance review, providing you a greater level of assurance over time.
Updating also comes with benefits because it renews ERISAfire's million-dollar warranty and audit defense guaranty.
Bare Minimum Compliance with ERISA Plan Document Requirement
If the goal is only to have a plan document (because ERISA says you have to) and it's not all that important to be up-to-date with other legal requirements or to use the plan document as a risk management tool, then you might be able to get away with putting off a plan document update for a year or so. Below are examples of minor changes—things that will not necessarily affect the minimum plan document requirement of ERISA—and major changes—things that, if not addressed in the plan document, will result in a breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA because the plan document is not being administered in accordance with its terms.
In years where there are minor benefit changes—that is, changes to benefits that don't affect the legal terms and conditions of the document and are communicated during open enrollment—the plan document will still serve its bare minimum task of documenting the structure of your benefits for purposes of ERISA (assuming ERISAfire prepared your prior plan document). These include:
Change of carrier
Addition or dropping of an ancillary line of coverage
Change in employee contribution rate
Increase or decrease in participation
We do still want to know about changes to your benefits each year, so we can update your coverages in the compliance calendar app. That way you'll continue to receive only relevant compliance alerts. 💡 Pro Tip: Upload your new open enrollment guide in our in-app messenger (friendly little blue guy in the bottom right-hand corner of this screen), and we'll take it from there.
No matter your goals for an ERISA plan document, it's time to update it when your company has made significant benefit changes or in years where there have been legal developments necessitating plan language changes.
Significant benefits changes affecting your plan document include:
Participating employers or subsidiaries
Eligibility, waiting period, rehire rules
Mid-year election change administration
Change in which benefits are pre-tax versus after-tax
ERISA plan year
Addition or removal of benefits that require special plan language (e.g., on-site clinics; limited benefits for part-time employees like telehealth, EAP or flu shots; retiree coverage or other special extensions of coverage beyond COBRA)
Ready to Update Your Plan Document?
Reach out via our in-app messenger (friendly little blue guy in the bottom right-hand corner) on this help site or on ERISAfire Projects, and one of our team members will assist you.