What is an ERISA Lawyer?
ERISA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, is a federal law that sets standards and guidelines for employee benefits plans. The law does not require employers to offer benefits, but they must follow this law when they do.
The law protects employees in several ways. It ensures that plan administrators act in the members’ best interests, that employers provide information about benefits, and that they are accountable to the federal government. It outlines procedures for employees to report violations and appeal benefits decisions.
If you have any issues with your benefits in a private industry company, you can rely on an ERISA lawyer for advice and guidance. They can represent you in a claims appeal and if you need to sue your employer. If you feel your employer is violating the law, a lawyer will help you file a complaint.
When Do I Need an ERISA Lawyer?
An ERISA lawyer helps clients in many ways. Although legal representation is not required to handle benefits claims, appeals, and ERISA complaints, a lawyer can provide expertise and the benefit of their experience. A simple benefit claim doesn’t require a lawyer, but you should talk to one in more complicated situations:
- You claimed disability and received a denial, which you believe was in error.
- You have received another type of insurance claim denial that seems incorrect.
- Your disability payments were unexpectedly terminated.
- You have been discriminated against in making a claim.
- Your employer refuses to pay your pension when you retire.
- Your pension, or retirement fund, is less than you expected.
- The retirement account is less because you believe the fund was mismanaged or that someone committed fraud with it.
- Your employer has offered a severance package, and you aren’t sure which benefits you should still receive.
- You believe you should be getting benefits from your spouse’s plans after a divorce.
- You requested information from your employer about benefits plans, but they will not provide it.
- You suspect your employer or the fiduciary of your benefits plans has violated ERISA or acted criminally.
- You suspect your employer fired you to keep you from getting benefits.
ERISA provides for many protections for workers. This means there are many ways in which an employer or fiduciary could violate the law and give you a reason to talk to a lawyer or take legal action.
Why Should I Hire an ERISA Lawyer?
You may not technically need a lawyer to handle issues with benefits, but having a lawyer on your side has many benefits. ERISA and related laws are complicated, as are the procedures for applying for benefits, appealing denials, and reporting violations. Here’s why you should avoid going it alone and have an ERISA lawyer as your advocate:
- They know the laws
These lawyers specialize in ERISA and benefits. They know the ins and outs of the complex guidelines, standards, and procedures related to benefits plans. You don’t need to read encyclopedias of knowledge on the topic if you have the right lawyer.
- Get your full benefits
Because the topic is so complex, it can be easy to make mistakes and all too easy for employees never to notice those mistakes. A lawyer will ensure benefits get calculated correctly and that you get the full benefits to which you are entitled.
- Make a successful appeal
Filing for benefits is relatively simple, but if you receive a denial and face an appeal, things get much more complicated. Even if you apply on your own, rely on the experience of an ERISA lawyer to make the appeal. You’ll have a better chance of success and of getting the benefits with their expertise.
- They hold employers accountable
It can be tough to go up against an employer, especially a large company. But if you feel they aren’t treating you right with respect to benefits, it’s a must. A lawyer will be your representative, taking on your employer or the benefits administrator to hold them accountable to the law.
- They’ll work with the government
In some cases, you may need to make a complaint to the government agency responsible for ERISA. As with making claims and appeals, this process can be confusing. A lawyer will guide you through the process and help you get results from your complaint.
How to Find an ERISA Lawyer
Many lawyers advertise their specialty, so finding a lawyer who purports to handle ERISA cases is not difficult. You may need to weed through these to determine the best firm or attorney to handle your case. The right lawyer should have years of experience with ERISA and benefits appeals. This should be their main focus of practice, not just a side practice.
If you can get a referral for an ERISA lawyer, that’s even better. Check with co-workers who may have made benefits claims and appeals and worked with a lawyer. Friends and family may also have a referral. A lawyer you know in another specialty can probably lead you to someone they know and trust who handles benefits cases.
Working with Your ERISA Lawyer
Before hiring the ERISA lawyer who will handle your case, ask questions, and interview more than one. A good working relationship with a lawyer begins with open communication. Consider it a red flag if a lawyer doesn’t have time to answer your questions or does not offer a free initial meeting.
Ask about their experience, past clients and references, outcomes for other cases, and what they think about your situation. Ask them what they think they can do for you and what they expect for a timeline and outcome. Talk about fees too, so there are no surprises later.
Working with an ERISA lawyer may be necessary if you have a dispute regarding your benefits at work. As an expert in the law and everything related to benefits, they can advocate for you, represent you, and provide professional advice.