Distribution of an SPD, or Summary Plan Description, must be made to all participants covered by the welfare or pension plan in question. The SPD can either be combined with the Plan document, or can act as a stand-alone document. For fully insured plans, the usual practice is to incorporate the Certificate of coverage that was issued by the Insurer, via reference.

Within 90 days of a participant becoming covered by a plan, an SPD must be distributed. If it is a new plan subject to ERISA, then the SPD must be provided within 120 days of the plan being adopted. If the plan is amended or changed in any way, a modified SPD must be provided to each participant every 5 years. If the plan is not altered, then a new SPD must be provided every 10 years.

Distributing an SPD requires more than just making it available to participants. The DOL has indicated that simply advising participants that the document in question is available in a common area of a workplace, can be a deterrent for participants to attain and review the important plan information, thus, it does not ensure delivery. Placing the SPD in a common area or break room does not meet the regulations for SPD distribution. The SPD must be distributed in a manner that guarantees delivery to each participant. An accepted method is providing printed copies via first class mail to the employee’s home address, or via internal company mail. The SPD can also be distributed electronically so long as it is compliant with the specific guidelines.

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