An overview of ERISA law

Not every employer is required to offer benefits beyond a salary. For example, no federal law mandates that a Tennessee business owner must provide a retirement plan or health insurance, but many do so as a way to entice good workers to remain faithful. Once an employer offers these benefits, however, federal law applies. This complex law falls under the governance of the U.S. Department of Labor and is called the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA.

Employers who offer benefits such as health insurance or retirement plans must provide their participants with critical information about how the plans work. For example, employees enrolled in a health care plan must have clear instructions about how to file for benefits, how the claims process works and any changes that the plan managers make. Participants must receive a written copy of the policies and instructions for how to appeal any claim denials.

Another important element of ERISA is the accountability it places of fiduciaries of employer-based plans. Those who manage the plans must, by law, seek only the best interests of the plan participants. For example, an employer who offers a retirement investment plan must manage the contributions so that they provide the most benefit for the employees even if this means the employer takes a loss. Additionally, ERISA forbids any form of discrimination in employer benefit plans.

There are many other regulations over ERISA, and employees would be wise to know how those regulations apply to their own benefits packages. A Tennessee attorney with experience in employment law can answer questions related to an individual's benefits. Employees may also have particular concerns about how fiduciaries are managing their benefits, and an attorney can provide guidance and assistance.

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