Tennessee Legal Blog

ERISA rules may change to allow more insurance options

Employers are not required by law to offer health insurance benefits to their employees unless they have 50 or more full-time workers. In fact, many small business owners who would like to provide this option to their staff find it cost prohibitive. A proposed changed to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) could change that.

Under the proposal presented by the U.S. Department of Labor, about 11 million workers in Tennessee and across the country may be able to afford health care coverage. The DOL would like to change current ERISA rules to allow groups of small businesses and self-employed workers to join together to purchase health care plans for their employees. By combining their resources, small businesses can obtain health insurance options that are affordable, even when they only employ a few people.

Mesothelioma is deadly but usually takes time to develop

Modern medicine offers many people facing a cancer diagnosis a fighting chance for remission. Certain cancers, however, are more aggressive and have lower survival rates than others.

Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the lining of the organs, often the lungs and causes debilitating symptoms. Currently, there is no cure for the disease. However, those with a mesothelioma diagnosis may seek medical treatment to extend their lives and reduce the symptoms like chronic coughs and chest pain.

Robocalls lead to mass torts

When the phone rings, one might expect the caller to be a friend or family member, a romantic interest or a Tennessee business associate. Too often, however, the caller is a telemarketer of some kind. While some telemarketers have legitimate sales pitches, others are scam artists, particularly robocallers. It is becoming more difficult to avoid them as their tricks grow more sophisticated, but some consumers find relief in mass torts that hold robocallers accountable for violating the law.

Robocalls are computer generated, and they don't care if the person receiving the call is on a do-not-call list. Spoofs are a kind of robocall that uses technology to appear on someone's caller ID as if the call is coming from a trusted source. For example, a spoof call may seem to be coming from a neighbor or family member, from the police or from the IRS. Some consumer advocates estimate that 2.4 billion robocalls are made each month.

Wage and hour disputes recover billions in stolen wages

Over the next few months, workers in Tennessee and across the United States will be gathering documents to complete their income tax returns. Some may be shocked when they receive their W-2s and realize just how little money they earned over the past year, especially when they reflect on how hard they worked and how many hours they put in. What may be even more painful is the fact that many of those workers would have earned much more if not for wage theft.

If anyone still doubts whether wage theft is a problem in this country, the latest study released by the Economic Policy Institute may convince them otherwise. The data shows that workers probably lost more than $50 billion in wage theft over the past two years. About $2 billion was recovered through class action settlements and state and federal labor agencies. There is no indication that the situation will improve, especially for those most vulnerable to wage theft: workers in the food services industry.

Sears pensions may no longer be protected by ERISA

For a number of years, consumers in Tennessee have watched as Sears and Kmart struggled to remain viable while major retailers closed all around them. Of particular concern to employees and former employees is that the Sears Holdings Corporation, the owner of the two department stores, seems to be taking some drastic steps to fulfill its obligations to retirees receiving pensions. Some of those actions remove the pensions from the protections of the Employee Retirements Income Security Act (ERISA).

Sears recently announced that some of the proceeds of over $607 million in new loans will go toward the company's pension obligations. Sears was also granted an extension of an existing loan. Some analysts see these moves as a desperate way for Sears to pacify its vendors, many of whom are losing confidence in the retailer's future.

Mass torts for mesothelioma may include firefighters

One of the most terrifying diagnoses a Tennessee worker can receive is that of malignant mesothelioma. The deadly, slow-moving form of cancer is found in those who work in particular industries, such as shipyards, power plants and auto manufacturing. Many who learned they had the fatal illness sought financial compensation through mass torts. Recently, another industry has made the list of jobs at high-risk for asbestos exposure.

A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health suggests that firefighters have a higher risk of fatal forms of cancer than most people. In addition to digestive, respiratory and oral cancers, firefighters have significantly more mesothelioma diagnoses than the general public. This may be because of the asbestos that is released in the air when certain construction materials burn.

Sprint Corp. accused of wage theft

Despite the old saying, time is not always money. A Tennessee worker may put in more than 40 hours on the job, but if the employer refuses to pay overtime, that worker has essentially given away that time. Forcing employees who qualify for overtime pay to work beyond their scheduled time without compensating them is against the law, and despite numerous lawsuits, one national corporation doesn't seem to be getting the message.

Last summer, Sprint Corp. faced accusations from 153 employees alleging they had been required to work beyond their 40 hours but were not paid for those extra hours. The employees' lawsuit claimed that management required them to report 40 hours on their time sheets despite the employees regularly working up to 60 hours. If the employees did not report 40 hours, the management reported it for them.

Mesothelioma claims are not decreasing

The report, “Asbestos Losses Continue to Rise; Environmental Losses Remain Stable,” makes plain that the number of cases reported are not declining, as most people expected and hoped.

Settlements for 2016 stood at $3.2 billion – that’s a 9 percent increase from 2015.

Airline faces ERISA lawsuit for poorly managed 401(k)

For the past six years, participants in American Airlines' 401(k) plan have potentially lost about $88 million in returns they might have expected. This is the opinion of a U.S. District Court judge who rejected a settlement the airline proposed to bring to an end a dispute with those participants. American offered $8.8 million to settle the case in which the participants accuse the company of failing in the fiduciary duties outlined by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Those in Tennessee may know this better as ERISA.

ERISA places strict standards on benefits offered by private companies, such as pensions and health plans. When those who manage the benefits fail in their fiduciary duties, the participants have the right to seek redress and potentially compensation for the returns they may have made had the plan been handled properly. In the case of American Airlines, the participants say the 401(k) plan contained a credit union mutual fund instead of more stable offerings typical for the conservative product.

Wage theft is often misunderstood

When people in Tennessee apply for jobs, it is typically because they expect those jobs to help them pay for the things they need, such as rent, clothing and transportation. Certain jobs carry legal minimum wages, and others carry contractually agreed upon pay. Wage and hour disputes arise when workers believe their employers have not paid the amount of money owed for the work they have done. Wage theft may take many forms and is not always easy to identify.

Many think an employer commits wage theft by not paying an employee overtime. However, the employer may also neglect to give a worker a final check, and sometimes, a worker is not paid for the entire time he or she worked. While hourly employees may be more susceptible to wage theft, such thievery occurs in every industry. Those most vulnerable to having an employer take advantage of them are workers in restaurants, home health care, retail and agriculture.

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