The Employment Retirement Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) was enacted to protect workers from fraudulent management of their retirement, pension and health plans. Over the decades since it was signed into law, it has been amended many times, adding to its protective effects but also to its complexity. Its many sections and amendments are related to information sharing between program plan administrators and covered individuals, among other things.
ERISA does not require an employer to provide certain benefits; it only sets standards for administering any benefits that are offered and procedures to ensure those standards are upheld. Common themes throughout ERISA’s various amendments and sections are an employer’s obligation to report certain information both to the government and to the plan participants and to avoid conflicts of interests when making decisions related to employee benefits and investment options. The law was created to protect the interests of workers, and it does a good job in that regard most of the time. However, there is a little thing called ERISA preemption that may not always be a benefit to individuals covered by private health or pension plans.
What ERISA Preemption Means
When it was enacted by Congress, ERISA included a clause stating that it preempts, or replaces, state laws on the same subject. This preemption includes both substantially similar and conflicting laws and is not affected by whether the state law in question was enacted before or after ERISA. Because ERISA’s regulations preempt many state laws meant to protect individuals from fraudulent or unfair practices, sometimes the individuals in question are deprived of benefits they would otherwise have received. Also, ERISA may change the way a person can seek protection or relief if he or she claims to have been treated unfairly by an insurance company:
Your Legal Options Under ERISA
Although you may not be entitled to a jury trial or some specific monetary awards under ERISA, you are allowed to file for emergency relief or a civil action against your pension or health plan administrators. You can also file a complaint if you believe your employer has retaliated against you for having filed an ERISA-related action in court.
ERISA Does Not Always Preempt State Law
There are several situations in which ERISA does not preempt state law. Preemption does not occur if you are dealing with any of the following:
If you represent an employer or a benefits plan administrator, you should familiarize yourself with ERISA and how it applies to your organizations’ health and retirement plans. If you are an individual who is covered under a plan that falls under ERISA’s jurisdiction, you should have at least a basic understanding of ERISA and how it applies to you and your plan elections.
If you are having a problem with your insurance company and you think ERISA might preempt your state’s bad faith laws, consult an attorney. ERISA is a complex, often confusing law that you will not want to attempt to navigate on your own. Also, some aspects of the law and how it applies to your unique situation may need to be clarified in court. Your insurance plan may deny you benefits and mention ERISA, but that does not mean that you have no legal recourse. The important thing is to seek legal advice before the statute of limitations runs out on your case.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.