Up until a few months ago, I worked as a director of compliance for a health and welfare benefits consultancy where I would have frequent conversations with external counsel, especially regarding the "always-so-easy-to-understand" worlds of ERISA and Section 125. Whenever I spoke to one attorney in particular, Marilyn Monahan of Monahan Law Office, we always wondered why so many employers were not compliant in critical areas, especially when many already worked with attorneys and consultants who could assist with the necessary corrective action.

Many employers don't realize that ERISA has two separate plan documentation requirements: the plan document and the summary plan description. The plan document is the legal document that establishes and governs the plan. The SPD - which is distributed to plan participants - summarizes the legal terms in the plan document using language that can be understood by the average plan participant. While the SPD is distributed to plan participants, the plan document does not have to be, but must be provided if a participant asks for it.

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