Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Aug 5, 2019

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How much do you know about ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act), pension funds and 401(k) s? If you’re like most of us, the answer is “not much.” To answer some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about these areas, we asked Ron Dean, a California attorney who has been practicing ERISA law for over 35 years:

Question: What laws protect employees from corporate mishandling of funds?

Answer: ERISA, the Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974, sets up an elaborate system of rules for how fiduciaries are to act – what they can and cannot do. There are even criminal penalties for serious violations. However, in these times of budget crunches, enforcement is spotty and so vigilance by the employees is very important

Question: How can an attorney help me?

Answer: An attorney can help get the information you need to decide if the funds have been mismanaged and can go over that information with you to decide if you have a case.

Question: How can I preserve the value of my case?

Answer: The sooner you seek legal help, the more likely it is that you can stop the mismanagement of the fund.

Question: When should I contact an attorney if I suspect my company of mismanaging funds?

Answer: As soon as possible. There’s only so much you can do without legal help. Contacting the U.S. Department of Labor is helpful in the big cases, but they usually just don’t have the resources to get involved in the smaller cases.

Question: What does hiring an attorney cost up front?

Answer: Many attorneys will help out in the initial stages either for free or for a minimal charge. Be absolutely sure to discuss this with the attorney from the get-go.

Question: Does an attorney’s experience really matter in these situations?

Answer: Oh boy, does it ever. You need a lawyer who’s ‘been there and done that.’ These are complicated cases and ERISA has been described as one of the most complex statutes ever passed by Congress. It’s like heart surgery. You want someone who’s very very good.

If you’ve been denied valid benefits under ERISA, consult with an experienced ERISA attorney to discuss your situation and evaluate your options. Consultations are free, without obligation and strictly confidential.