Christensen said that some companies offer a match but, because of the way their plans are set up, are free to revoke it at any point.
Other plans require a mandatory company match. Such requirements are spelled out in the summary plan descriptions. Christensen said a quick way to check is to log on to the company's 401(k) provider and see if the matching contributions have already been made. If a company has already made contributions, they can't be taken away.
That still doesn't make Janet, a 26-year-old employee with a large company that recently announced 401(k) cutbacks, any happier. Her company will eliminate its match in February.
"It's disappointing because we expected better," said Janet, declining to name her employer and asking that her last name not be used.
The 401(k) was, to her, a "promise to keep me motivated and working at my job." Now, she sees that promise as "empty words."
"I have to remind myself: The company isn't there to help me. I've got to think of myself first," she said. "I need to think of myself first. The company isn't going to think about how to help me retire or how to increase my wealth."