Fairfax, VA employment attorney John C. Cook explains what ERISA (Employment Benefits) is and how it works.
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ERISA, E-R-I-S-A, is the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. It’s a federal law that governs all employee benefit programs, whether it be health insurance, pension, 401k, IRA, or other programs that are offered to all employees in the workplace as a benefit of employment. And ERISA is a complicated law, but it has two basic foundations to it. One is that if there is an employee benefit program like one of those that I named, there needs to be a written document called the Plan that describes how the program works. And secondly, the employer is required to follow that plan at all times.
The employer can change the plan going forward, but must follow the rules of the plan. So for example, you cannot have health insurance for some employees and not for other employees. Everyone must be offered the same benefits under the Plan. And if under the Plan you’re entitled to a benefit, that benefit must be given to you. And if not, if you’re denied that benefit, then you have the right to bring a legal action to enforce your rights.