Employment Law Attorney Assisting Clients with ERISA Violations in Ohio
If you have benefits through work, you are entitled to exactly what’s promised
You depend on your employee benefit plans. Whether it’s a pension, retirement, or insurance, you expect those benefits to be there for you and your family. It is important to know that these plans have significant protections under federal law. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) established these protections.
The law applies to most pension plans and healthcare plans in the private industry. However, employers sometimes violate ERISA. This harms employees who rely on pension and health plans and their benefits.
You may have questions about ERISA violations. Who does the law protect? How are violations addressed? Are your benefits covered by ERISA? We have the answers you need.
ERISA is a complex law, and most lawyers know nothing about it. If you have questions or concerns, you should reach out to an employment law attorney in Ohio that focuses on ERISA as soon as possible. An advocate at the law offices of Tittle & Perlmuter can help.
What is ERISA?
ERISA provides protections for employees in private industries. The law covers benefits under certain pension and health plans. Employees’ beneficiaries (usually family members) covered by these plans are also protected. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), ERISA is, in basic terms, a law that “sets minimum standards for most voluntarily established pension and health plans in private industry to provide protections for individuals in these plans.”
Your Rights Under ERISA
ERISA establishes standards of conduct for fiduciaries. This includes specific plan managers. The law also includes enforcement provisions. These provisions ensure that participants receive their benefits even if a company goes out of business.
Under ERISA, you have the following rights as an employee:
- Access to information about the plan. Updates on a regular basis, including details about the features of the plan and its funding;
- To have access to reasonable claims procedures established and maintained by the employer;
- Established minimum standards for participating in the plan, as well as for vesting, benefit accrual, and funding (in order to be eligible for benefits under one of the ERISA-covered plans, an employee must meet eligibility requirements, which can include working for a specific amount of time);
- Adequate funding for the plan by plan sponsors;
- Accountability of plan fiduciaries. Under ERISA, a plan fiduciary includes anybody who “exercises discretionary authority or control over a plan’s management or assets.” This includes anyone who provides investment advice to the plan, according to the DOL;
- To hold fiduciaries responsible for restoring losses if they do not follow principles of conduct;
- To sue for any benefits and breaches of fiduciary duty; and
- Payment of certain benefits through a federally chartered corporation (Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation) upon plan termination.
When ERISA violations occur the federal law has built-in language that makes clear a beneficiary can file a lawsuit to seek a remedy.
Does ERISA Cover My Plan?
ERISA typically covers:
- Defined Benefit Plans. Your private employer funds these plans and promises to pay you a specific benefit each month during retirement; and
- Defined Contribution Plans. Both you and your employer contribute money (into an individual account). You typically decide how the contributions get invested, as well as how much you want to contribute.
Examples include but are not limited to:
- Simplified employee retirement plans (SEPs). Employer makes contributions to a workers’ individual retirement account (IRA);
- Employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs). Defined contribution plans typically invested in employer stock;
- 401(k) plans, which are a common type of a defined contribution plan and include traditional 401(k) plan, safe harbor 401(k), SIMPLE 401(l), and automatic enrollment 401(k); and
- Profit sharing and stock bonus plans. These allow an employer to determine how much it will contribute to the plan from either cash or its own stock.
Since covers many benefits plans, it is often easier to identify types of plans that are not covered. These include the following:
- Group health plans established or maintained by government entities;
- Health plans established by churches for their employees;
- Group health plans maintained in order for an employer to comply with workers’ compensation, unemployment, or disability laws;
- Plans maintained outside of the U.S. and that are for the benefit of nonresident aliens; and
- Unfunded excess benefit plans.
Filing a Claim After an ERISA Violation
If you need to file a claim for an ERISA violation, an experienced Ohio ERISA benefits lawyer can assist you. Many ERISA claims are subject to stringent administrative exhaustion requirements. That means you have to go through all of the plan-created appeal procedures before going to court.
The evidence and arguments you present during that appeal process can make or break your claim.
Participants in plans covered by ERISA have the right to sue the plan after a violation. The DOL clarifies that participants can file lawsuits under ERISA in the following situations:
- Appeal a benefits claim denial once you have exhausted administrative remedies;
- Recover denied benefits;
- Clarify the participant’s right to future benefits;
- Obtain plan documents that you requested in writing but were not received;
- Hold a fiduciary accountable for a breach of fiduciary duties; and
- To prevent the plan from continuing to act in a way that violates either the terms of the plan or ERISA.
Common Types of ERISA Violations That Can Harm Workers and their Beneficiaries in Ohio
There are many different types of ERISA violations. The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) explains that there are both civil violations and criminal provisions. Example of civil violations that can impact pension and welfare plans include the following:
- Employer’s failure to operate the benefit plan carefully, with the exclusive benefit of the participants in mind;
- Denial of benefits to participants entitled to those benefits;
- Use of plan assets to benefit anyone other than the participants, such as the plan administrator, the plan sponsor, or any parties related to the plan administrator or the plan sponsor;
- Failure to properly value the assets of the plan at the current fair market value;
- Failure to hold plan assets in trust;
- Not following specific terms or provisions of the plan uncles those terms or provisions are inconsistent with other requirements of ERISA;
- Failure to properly select and monitor the service providers;
- Retaliation—or any adverse action—against a plan participant for exercising his or her rights under the terms of the plan. Retaliation and other adverse actions include but are not limited to employment termination, monetary fine, and/or discrimination; and
- With welfare plans, failure to comply with the Affordable Care Act and ERISA Part 7.
Some examples of employer actions that may constitute ERISA violations include:
- Employer’s failure to review ERISA Plan Documents and Summary Plan Descriptions (SPDs). Private sector employees with covered plans must have current Plan Documents and SPDs. In the event that an employer renews coverage with inconsistent benefits information and eligibility terms, the employer may have violated ERISA. Participants may be able to file a claim.
- Failure to provide a participant with a Summary Plan Description. The DOL requires employers to provide an SPD to covered employees. Failure to do so can result in a steep fine for an ERISA violation.
- Changing a policy renewal date without providing proper notice. Employers cannot change the renewal date for a benefit plan to change certain provisions or to attempt to negotiate a lower premium without ensuring that they’ve met all other ERISA requirements. Violations occur in these situations when the employer changes the renewal date and fails to provide proper notice to employees. This can be a compliance violation.
Regardless of whether violations seem minor or significant, you should contact a lawyer. ERISA violations are a serious issue, and an Ohio benefits lawyer can teach you about your compensation options.
Criminal Violations of ERISA
Beneficiaries harmed because of ERISA civil violations may be able to file a claim. It is important to note, at the same time, that criminal charges can also result from ERISA violations. The EBSA emphasizes that it “conducts investigations of criminal violations regarding employee benefit plans such as embezzlement, kickbacks, and false statements under Title 18 of the U.S. Criminal Code.”
In deciding whether a criminal action is necessary, the EBSA consider the egregiousness and magnitude of the alleged violation. They also consider whether incarceration would serve as a desirable and/or likely deterrent and punishment and whether the alleged offender has previous ERISA violations.
How Is ERISA Enforced When Alleged Violations Occur?
Three different government agencies enforce ERISA:
- Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), within the Department of Labor;
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS); and
- Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
Contact an ERISA Violation Lawyer in Ohio
Do you need help dealing with an ERISA violation? Did your employer retaliate against you after you tried to enforce your rights under ERISA? An experienced Ohio ERISA violation attorney can speak with you today about your case and about your options. Contact Tittle & Perlmuter to learn more about the services we provide to clients throughout Ohio.