ERISA Bond vs. Fiduciary Liability: You Need to Know the Difference

By Craig Santa Maria

If you provide a health or retirement plan for your employees, they expect it to be there when they need it. And if the people managing the plan act outside of the law, resulting in plan losses, they can be held personally liable to the plan members. If you are a trustee of your company’s benefits plan, do you know if you and your company are adequately protected?

It’s the Lawnest egg

In 1974, Congress enacted the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to protect plan participants and beneficiaries from fraud, theft or mismanagement by plan managers, or fiduciaries. Basically, ERISA established rules governing how voluntarily-created, private-sector retirement and health plans must be managed and it requires those companies to provide protection to participants in the form of an ERISA Fidelity Bond equal to 10% of the plan value.

For additional information about ERISA Fidelity Bonds, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) website.

Know the difference

ERISA bonds protect plan participants, but many business owners wrongly believe ERISA bonds also protect fiduciaries, those who handle plan assets, from liability against losses arising from breaches of fiduciary responsibilities. That is not true, and it can leave you and your company exposed to costly judgments.

For example:

  • A group of employees sued retirement plan trustees, claiming a new outside plan administrator improperly delayed transferring fund balances, resulting in lost investment income. They were awarded more than $1 million and defense costs totaled $250,000.
  • A manufacturer failed to submit the required forms for an employee’s life insurance policy, but continued to deduct the premium from the employee’s paycheck. When the employee died, the life insurer denied the claim. The employee’s heirs sued the plan fiduciary and recovered $250,000.

Fortunately, in both of these cases the companies had protected their plan trustees with fiduciary liability insurance, which provided legal defense and covered the legal settlements.

3 Critical Considerations

Every employer should carefully answer these three questions to be sure you have the proper protections in place for your employees, your plan fiduciaries, and your company:

  1. Do you need an ERISA Fidelity Bond? If you offer most types of employee benefit plans, you most likely are required to purchase an ERISA Fidelity Bond. There are some exemptions; check the EBSA website for detailed ERISA information.
  1. Is your ERISA Fidelity Bond sufficient? The law requires that the bond cover at least 10% of the plan value in the previous year for each fiduciary, so if your company has multiple people who have fiduciary responsibilities, each must be bonded for at least 10%. The bond must be at least $1,000, but no more than $500,000, for each bonded plan official. Each person is responsible for his own bonding, so if the bond amount is insufficient, that person can be fined by the EBSA.
  1. Do you also need fiduciary liability insurance? Remember that the ERISA Fidelity Bond does not protect the fiduciary from liability resulting from breaches of fiduciary responsibility. Claims against the fiduciary put his personal assets at stake. Even if you have a Directors and Officers (D&O) liability policy, most do not cover fiduciary liability.

If these questions raise any doubt about whether you or your company are adequately protected from claims related to ERISA, speak with a high-quality, experienced broker to ensure your business and personal assets are covered.

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Craig Santa Maria is President and COO of Santa Maria & Company (SMC), a risk management consultancy and commercial insurance brokerage in the San Francisco Bay area with deep expertise helping companies protect what is most important to them: their assets, their employees, and their futures. Contact SMC at 925-956-7600 or online at www.smcrisk.com.

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