ERISA protections continue to grow and change

When the Employee Retirement Income Security Act went into effect in 1974, its purpose was to protect workers whose employers voluntarily provided benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans. ERISA never required businesses to supply this coverage for employees, but the law mandated minimal standards to ensure employers did not take advantage of their workers. In Tennessee and across the country, employees have peace of mind knowing their benefits are in place and that they have recourse if a plan fiduciary breaches his or her duty.

Since 1974, the original law has been amended in numerous ways. For example, the law now contains additional protections for women, cancer victims and those who suffer with mental health issues. Those who appreciate the privacy protections of their medical records can thank the ERISA amendment called Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPPA's protection of patient health issues aims to prevent health care coverage discrimination against employees who may have preexisting conditions.

Employees who leave or lose jobs may feel anxious about losing health care coverage for themselves and their families. However, the ERISA amendment called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act allows those workers to maintain health benefits for a period of time after they leave an employer. COBRA is one ERISA expansion that has protected many workers in Tennessee and elsewhere.

There are still some employees whose plans are not covered by ERISA, such as those established by churches or government employers. However, most other employees can expect their employers to provide information about health or retirement plans, how to file claims and how to appeal a decision, among other details. Those who feel their employer is not in compliance with ERISA or its amendments may benefit by consulting with an attorney to consider their options for legal recourse.

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