Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Changing Times, Changing Benefits Workplace Pensions: Next Generation or Final Frontier

Document type Article
Author Steele, Jana
Journal Canadian Labour and Employment Law Journal
Volume 19
Date 2015-2016
Pages 105-134


This paper explores some of the complex legal issues that a pension plan sponsor may face when making changes to plan design, particularly where those changes may have a negative impact on benefits. Pension standards legislation in Canada generally permits prospective amendments to a pension plan, pro- vided they do not affect vested rights. However, as the author explains, deter- mining the nature and extent of permissible changes may be complicated by differences in the language of the applicable legislation, which varies across jurisdictions. Furthermore, the key terms "accrued" and "vested" have not been interpreted in a consistent way by courts and tribunals. Turning specifically to the question of which pension benefits can be changed and which ones cannot, the author argues that pension standards law protects only accrued benefits, and not a particular plan design or all "rights" which might be said to arise from plan membership. The paper goes on to review the limited circumstances in which changes can be made to vested pension benefits.