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Pensions and Benefits
A pension plan is a form of retirement plan where an employer contributes to a fund for employees' retirement. Retirement plans are a major incentive for employees to stay with the same company for a long time.
Legal issues concerning pension plans usually arise when an employee leaves a company.
Employee Benefit Programs
An employee is often eligible for a wide variety of benefits programs that come with their employment. The employer pays some of these benefits programs, while others require a contribution from the employee. An employer should let the employee know how long they need to work at the job before they are eligible for the benefits.
- Health, Medical, Dental or Mental Health Plans - Employers offering health or medical plans have certain duties towards employees. An employee is entitled to: disclosure of important plan information, a timely and fair process for benefit claims, elect to temporarily continue group health coverage after losing coverage, a certificate evidencing health coverage under a plan, and recover benefits due under the plan.
- COBRA - Under the federal "COBRA" law, employees may be eligible for continuation of their health insurance benefits whether they quit or were fired. This law applies to employers with 20 or more employees and allows health coverage to be extended for up to 18 months. Covered employers are required to inform departing employees of their eligibility for continuing coverage. The employee must pay the cost of continued coverage.
Employee Pension Programs
A pension is a monetary compensation from the employer after the employee retires. There are two primary types of employee pensions:
- Defined Benefit Plan - An employer promises an employee a certain monthly benefit arrangement after the employee retires. Employees are informed in advance of what their benefits will be after retirement.
- Defined Contribution Plan - An employer with a defined contribution plan makes regular deposits in an account created specifically for the employee. Often, the employer invests the funds. The employer bears the risk if the investment fails.
Who Can Participate in the Employee Pension and Benefit Plan?
Federal law allows employers to exclude some employees from retirement plans. For example, an employer can reserve retirement benefits exclusively for salaried employees.
To qualify for a pension program, employees must generally wait for their rights to the plan to vest. Rights usually vest when an employee has worked five to ten years with the same employer. An employee can lose the rights to the pension if they leave the job before the rights have vested.
Once the pension has vested and the employee has rights to the money, the employee can either keep the money in the pension account until the employee retires, or remove the money early. If the money is removed before the age of retirement, tax penalties will result.
Protection of Employee Pension and Benefit Plans
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was created to monitor health plans and pensions offered by private employers. Specifically, ERISA provides protections to health plan recipients and beneficiaries by requiring employers to maintain and manage plans appropriately. ERISA ensures compliance through monitoring and prosecution of violators and empowers plan members and beneficiaries to file claims for ERISA violations when necessary.
Do I Need an Experienced Pension and Benefits Attorney?
ERISA is complicated because it regulates many aspects and details of contribution and defined benefit plans. An employment lawyer can assist an employer in creating a pension plan that complies with ERISA. A lawyer can also assist an employee or beneficiary of a health or pension plan if any difficulties arise with the employer administering the plan.
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Last Modified: 03-31-2017 02:12 AM PDT
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