Prohibited parties (called parties-in-interest) include the employer, the union, plan fiduciaries, service providers and statutorily defined owners, officers and relatives of parties-in-interest. Some of the prohibited transactions are:
• A sale, exchange or lease between the plan and party-in-interest
• Lending money or other extension of credit between the plan and party-in-interest
• Furnishing goods, services or facilities between the plan and party-in-interest
Other prohibitions relate solely to fiduciaries who use the plan’s assets in their own interest or who act on both sides of a transaction involving a plan. Fiduciaries cannot receive money or any other consideration for their personal account from any party doing business with the plan related to that business.
ERISA includes a number of exemptions that provide protections for the plan in conducting necessary transactions that would otherwise be prohibited. The DOL has authority to grant additional exemptions. ERISA includes exemptions for many dealings that are essential to the ongoing operations of the plan. One of these exemptions allows the plan to hire a service provider as long as the services are necessary to operate the plan and the contract or arrangement under which the services are provided and the compensation paid for those services is reasonable.
The exemptions issued by the DOL can involve transactions available to a class of plans or to one specific plan. Both class and individual exemptions are available on the DOL’s webpage for technical guidance for employee benefit plans. More information on applying for an exemption is available in the DOL’s Exemption Procedures under Federal Pension Law. This publication and the procedures also apply to group health plans.
ERISA includes standards of conduct for those who manage an employee benefit plan and its assets, who are called “fiduciaries.” This Legislative Brief includes a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) to help employers understand the basic fiduciary responsibilities applicable to group health plans under ERISA.