Reacting to recent court decisions, the Securities and Exchange Commision has narrowed sharply the types of employe benefit plans that are subject to the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws.

"We feel the courts have been sending us a message," said Peter Romeo, chief counsel in the commission's division of corporate finance.

Later this week, the SEC staff plans to publish a lengthy release explaining the new policy.

Briefly, under the new policy the management of employe benefit plans can be sued for fraud under the securities law only if the employes voluntarily put up the money for the plan.

However, very few plans fit this definition -- probably less than 5 percent.

In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned two lower court decisions in the case of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Daniel. This decision was key to the new SEC policy.

Daniel, a Teamster member, was denied his pension by the union because he had been laid off for about four mon ths during his 22 years as a union worker. Under the terms of the pension plan, members had to have 20 years of consecutive service to quality for benefits.

With the SEC supporting him, Daniel sued the union under the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws.