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What Is a Violation of ERISA?

On Behalf of Christian Ayers
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In 1974, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) came into law with the intention of protecting employee benefits programs and retirement accounts from fiduciary malfeasance. Today, most employers offer various benefits programs to their employees, and these benefits can be incredibly valuable when it comes to handling emergencies and planning for the future. Retirement accounts and welfare disability plans form the bulk of the employee benefits plans covered by ERISA.

ERISA enforces strict requirements for the employers that offer ERISA plans to their employees. While the majority of employers offering these plans comply with all applicable rules and regulations, some unfortunately do not. When employers commit ERISA violations, these incidents can result in tremendous losses for affected employees.

If you believe your employer has committed any ERISA violation, it’s vital to speak with an ERISA attorney as soon as possible. Your legal team can identify the misconduct that has caused your losses and help you explore the full scope of your options for legal recourse. Penalties for intentional ERISA violations can be severe, and it’s vital to have legal counsel you can trust if you want to reach the best possible outcome to your case.

What is a violation of ERISA?

Commonly Reported ERISA Violations

When an employer offers ERISA plans, they are required to adhere to strict rules to maintain ERISA compliance. A few of the most commonly reported ERISA violations in the US include:

  • Denial of benefits. Employers can face heavy fines and other penalties if they willfully withhold benefits from an employee or otherwise fail to provide an employee benefits under the terms of a group plan.
  • Reduction of benefits. Once an employer has established an ERISA plan with an employee, the employer must continue to abide by the terms of the plan, especially when it comes to contributions toward employee benefits plans.
  • Retaliation. It is illegal for any employer to retaliate against an employee’s legally protected action made in good faith. For example, if an employee attempts to assert their rights under ERISA and the employer terminates, demotes, penalizes, or discriminates against the employee, this qualifies as retaliation.
  • Denial of health care coverage. Most employer-provided health care benefits are subject to ERISA and the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). Any time an employer refuses to honor health care coverage under ERISA or COBRA this can lead to serious legal penalties. These violations are most common when employees are eligible for long-term disability benefits after severe workplace injuries.
  • Failing to provide notices. Employers offering ERISA plans must inform covered employees of any changes or updates to these plans. They must also provide advance notice of blackout periods when employee funds will be unavailable.
  • Breach of fiduciary duties. An employer’s handling of an ERISA plan is a fiduciary duty, and ERISA prohibits any misuse of employee benefit plan funds. Employers are required to maintain ERISA plans solely for the benefit of covered employees.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for some employees to recognize when their employer has committed an ERISA violation. When a violation occurs, the employee has the right to seek legal recourse against their employer, and the employer may not engage in any retaliatory action against the employee for asserting their rights. If you believe that your employer has violated their fiduciary duties in any way or has otherwise fallen out of compliance with ERISA, the attorneys at Ayers, Whitlow & Dressler can help you determine your best options for legal recourse.


Q: What Counts as an ERISA Plan?

A: Many types of employer-provided retirement plans and welfare disability plans fall within the purview of ERISA. Other types of benefits plans exist, but there are special rules for employers’ handling of all ERISA plans. When you sign up for any ERISA plan, the documentation provided by your employer should clearly state that the plan is covered by ERISA and include a complete list of your rights and your employer’s responsibilities under ERISA.

Q: What Does It Mean to Be ERISA Compliant?

A: The term “ERISA compliant” simply indicates that the employer offering an ERISA plan has met all legal obligations under the terms of ERISA and that they process any interactions related to employees’ ERISA plans in good faith. All employers that offer ERISA plans are provided clear instructions for maintaining compliance, and there is strong incentive for all employers offering these plans to maintain compliance at all times.

Q: What Does It Mean to Be ERISA Exempt?

A: Some benefits plans provided by employers are ERISA exempt, meaning the rules and regulations that apply to ERISA plans do not apply to these plans. A few examples of benefits plans that typically aren’t covered by ERISA include health savings accounts, liability or casualty insurance plans, unfunded professional development classes, tuition reimbursement plans, and unemployment compensation provided solely to comply with state laws.

Q: What Should I Do If an Employer Violates ERISA?

A: One of the most challenging aspects of resolving ERISA violations is the fact that most employers are not fully aware of their rights under ERISA. It’s possible for an ERISA violation to occur and the affected employee may not know they have grounds for legal recourse. If you suspect your employer has violated their fiduciary duties under ERISA and/or failed to comply with ERISA regulations in any way, it’s important to speak with a qualified attorney about the issue as soon as possible.

Q: Why Should I Hire an ERISA Attorney?

A: Navigating any ERISA complaint will require interacting with at least one insurance company, and these interactions are rarely easy or pleasant. Having experienced legal counsel assist you with your ERISA case makes every aspect of your proceedings easier to manage and more likely to yield a positive outcome.

The attorneys at Ayers, Whitlow & Dressler have extensive professional experience handling ERISA violation cases for our clients, and we can leverage this experience on your behalf. If you are ready to learn how an experienced attorney can help you resolve your employer’s ERISA violation and secure the benefits you need to recover, contact our team today to schedule your consultation.