ERISA Non-Discrimination Rules

ERISA Non-Discrimination Rules

As a South Carolina employee, you have rights regarding employer-sponsored benefits. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) is a federal law that protects your rights regarding your employer-provided benefits, such as health insurance and retirement plans. It is important to understand your rights under ERISA, as the rules and regulations surrounding employee benefits can be complex.

Below, the Peace Law Firm provides a brief overview of ERISA non-discrimination rules and how they affect employees during their employment. It also explains what to do if you believe your rights under ERISA have been violated.

What Is ERISA?

ERISA sets minimum standards for most private employer-sponsored retirement, health, and benefit plans. It protects people who take part in these plans. ERISA covers 

  • Retirement benefits,
  • Pension plans,
  • 401(k)s,
  • Medical insurance, 
  • Temporary disability benefits, 
  • Long-term or permanent disability benefits, and 
  • Death benefits.

ERISA doesn’t require employers to offer retirement and health plans. But if they do, the plans must comply with certain rules.

ERISA is administered by the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) under the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)

What Are the ERISA Non-Discrimination Rules?

ERISA non-discrimination rules ensure that all employees in an employer’s benefit plan are treated fairly, regardless of age, sex, race, or other protected characteristics. The nondiscrimination rules also protect employees from being discriminated against based on their health status or pre-existing conditions. These rules apply to most employers sponsoring retirement plans, including South Carolina employers.

The ERISA non-discrimination rules cover a wide range of topics, including:

  • Eligibility—employers must make their retirement plans available to all eligible employees on a non-discriminatory basis;
  • Contributions—employers must contribute to their retirement plans on a non-discriminatory basis; 
  • Benefits—employers must provide benefits from their retirement plans on a non-discriminatory basis; and 
  • Vesting—employers must vest employees’ interests in their retirement plans on a non-discriminatory basis. 

Vesting refers to the point at which an employee has gained a right to retirement benefits that cannot be given up or denied.

ERISA Nondiscrimination Rule Eligibility

ERISA protects most employees, but there are some employers who are not covered. They include:  

  • Government employers and entities; and
  • Churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples.  

In addition to some excluded employers, some types of insurance plans are also excluded from ERISA:

  • Benefit plans required under state law, such as workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits;
  • Unfunded excess benefit plans, or plans that offer benefits or contributions that are higher than what is allowed for tax-qualified plans; and
  • Plans outside the U.S. for non-resident aliens.

If unsure if your insurance plan falls within the above categories, consult with your employer or an ERISA attorney.

How ERISA Non-Discrimination Rules Affect Employees During Their Employment

ERISA non-discrimination rules require that all eligible employees receive the same benefits. It prohibits employers from discriminating among employees based on their race, color, religion, age, gender, or health status by:

  • Delaying an employee’s eligibility for a retirement plan;
  • Making lower or higher contributions to an employee’s retirement plan compared to other employees;
  • Providing greater or fewer benefits than those afforded to other employees; 
  • Reducing an employee’s benefits while maintaining benefits for other employees;
  • Delaying or denying an employee’s vesting rights in their retirement plans;
  • Processing or paying claims differently for different employees; and
  • Requiring an employee to pay more for health benefits than other employees.

Here are some examples of ERISA non-discrimination violations:

  • An employer refuses to offer health insurance coverage to employees over 50;
  • An employer makes smaller contributions to the retirement accounts of female employees than to the retirement accounts of male employees;
  • An employer requires employees under 30 to wait longer to participate in the retirement plan;
  • An employer reduces the benefits of employees within five years of retirement;
  • An employer denies health insurance coverage to employees with pre-existing medical conditions; or
  • An employer provides higher retirement account contributions to employees based on race or ethnicity.

Employers who violate ERISA non-discrimination rules may be fined or sued.

How to Report an ERISA Violation

If you suspect that your employer has violated ERISA non-discrimination rules, you have several options to report the violation. Your first step should be to talk to an experienced ERISA attorney. They can help you understand your legal options, manage your claim, and interact with your plan administrator on your behalf. 

Contact Your Plan Administrator 

The plan administrator is the person or company that manages your employer’s retirement or health insurance plan. You can find the contact information for your plan administrator in your plan documents. Your plan administrator can provide guidance and instructions on the appropriate steps to take. 

Gather Documentation

Gather any proof that supports your claim that ERISA was violated. Evidence includes plan documents, letters you send or receive from your employer or the plan administrator, and records of how you interact with the plan administrator or your employer.

File a Claim with Your Plan 

Most employee benefit plans have a claims process for addressing disputes. Follow the procedures outlined in your plan documents to file a claim.

Contact the DOL 

If your claim is denied or you cannot resolve your claim through the plan’s internal claims process, you can file a complaint with the DOL. You can do this online, by phone at 1-866-444-3272, or by mail.

How to Sue for ERISA Violations

If your employer denies your claim or discriminates against you, your next option is to sue your employer. ERISA cases can be filed in federal or state court, so your attorney can help you choose the right one.

It’s important to remember that there is a deadline for filing an ERISA lawsuit, so it’s crucial not to delay. The time limit is three years from the date you knew or should have known about the violation.

An experienced ERISA attorney can help you understand your legal options and build a strong case on your behalf. 

Contact an Experienced ERISA Attorney

If you believe your rights under ERISA have been violated or your appeal denied, you should talk to a knowledgeable ERISA attorney with proven success, like the Peace Law Firm. Led by John Peace, we have over two decades of experience helping people understand their rights under ERISA regulations and resolving complex ERISA cases.  

Contact us today for a free consultation. We serve South and North Carolina.

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