Practice Areas

Employee Rights

Employee Benefits

Employee compensation that is provided in a form other than wages or salaries is commonly referred to as “employee benefits.” The law generally does not require employers to provide benefits to their employees; however, many employers choose to provide some benefits in addition to wages. These benefits may include: health insurance, retirement savings, vacation pay, reimbursed expenses, company-sponsored trips, stock options, compensation for job-related injuries, etc.

While employers are not necessarily required to provide these benefits, employers may not create or operate benefit plans that violate the law. For example, employers may not administer employee benefits in a way that discriminates against certain groups of individuals who are protected by state and federal anti-discrimination laws, or in a way that is inconsistent with contracts or other agreements that have been made with employees. Courts in some states have held that employee handbook provisions setting forth employee benefits may create enforceable contracts that must be honored by the employer. Additionally, employers cannot retaliate against employees who attempt to exercise their rights to available benefits.

Rebekah L. Bailey

Employment Law Attorney
Learn More »

The Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) governs certain types of employee benefits. ERISA is a federal law that establishes rules that must be followed by private companies when they provide employees with covered employee benefits, such as retirement plans, which include pensions and 401(k)’s, and welfare plans, including health insurance.

ERISA does not require companies to provide these benefit plans, but if a company chooses to provide a plan, ERISA establishes rules employers must follow. For example, it requires companies to provide employees with certain information about their plans; it sets minimum standards to determine who may participate in a plan and what benefits must be paid; it places a duty on companies to manage benefit plans in the best interests of their employees; and it guarantees payment of certain minimum benefits to employees if a company’s plan is terminated.
ERISA allows employees to bring civil lawsuits to enforce their rights under employee benefit plans. Examples of potential violations are:

  • Your employer has refused to pay medical expenses for you or your family, and these expenses are supposed to be covered under your benefit plan.
  • Your health plan denied you coverage for a medical procedure that should be considered a “covered” procedure under the language of your plan documents.
  • Your employer did not contribute the proper amount to your benefit plan.
  • You are retired and your pension plan is not paying you the proper amount of income.
  • You relied on an investor or broker who mismanaged your funds, causing you and your plan to lose money.
  • You were discharged, suspended, fined, expelled, disciplined, or discriminated against for attempting to exercise your rights under an ERISA-protected retirement or welfare plan.
  • You have not been provided with information about your employer’s benefit plan, even though you have requested it in writing.
  • Your employer improperly classified you as an “independent contractor,” not an “employee,” and you would have been entitled to benefit plans had you been properly classified as an “employee.”

If you are a participant or a beneficiary of an employee benefit plan, you may be able to sue to obtain or recover benefits, clarify your rights to future benefits, obtain access to plan documents that you have requested in writing, or stop your employer from violating the terms of the plan.