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Employers Cannot Punish Employees for Exercising ERISA Rights

Fri Sep 14th, 2018 on     Insurance Claims,    

Though Florida employers are well aware of the standard discrimination and retaliation prohibitions that restrict their ability to discharge and otherwise punish employees for their actions — such as reporting discrimination in the workplace — there continues to be something of a blind spot when it comes to the exercise of ERISA-related rights.

Those who exercise their ERISA-related rights may therefore find themselves subject to unexpected retaliatory action, despite the fact that it is prohibited by law.  Fortunately, ERISA offers such employees the opportunity to bring an action against their employer for various damages, an injunction, and a reinstatement of benefits.

Consider the basics.

Employment Retaliation is Prohibited Under ERISA

Section 510 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) clearly prohibits retaliation against any ERISA plan participant (i.e., covered employees) who exercise their ERISA-related rights, such as pursuing the benefits to which they’re entitled under their applicable plan.

Retaliation is rather common, particularly in situations where the exercise of ERISA-related rights could expose the employer to additional costs, or where it could reveal that the employer has acted in bad faith, perhaps by violating their fiduciary duties to plan participants.  For example, if you are injured and are making a significant disability benefits claim under your ERISA-governed plan, then your employer may attempt to terminate you from your position or otherwise “force you out” in an effort to prevent you from exercising your rights and receiving the benefits at-issue.

What Qualifies as Retaliation?

If you bring a claim against your employer for having retaliated against you in violation of ERISA, then chances are that the employer will argue that they did not actually retaliate against you.

The employer will likely assert that:

  1. They did not take any action that could be defined as adverse; or
  2. Even if they took an adverse action against you, it was not causally related to your exercise of ERISA rights.

Retaliatory conduct may include, but is not necessarily limited, to:

  • Termination
  • Failure to promote
  • Failure to give an anticipated salary increase
  • Reclassification as an independent contractor
  • Deprivation of benefits
  • Creation of a hostile work environment
  • Burdening employee with excessive duties/work
  • And more

Importantly, however, you must be able to show that these adverse actions are due to your exercise of ERISA rights.  Doing so can be quite challenging, and will require that you present a consistent narrative that is well-supported by the facts.  For example, if you can show that your employer complained repeatedly about your intention to receive healthcare benefits pursuant to your ERISA insurance plan, that — in conjunction with the adverse action — might be sufficient to find that the conduct at-issue was improperly motivated and qualifies as retaliatory.

Contact an Experienced Miami Insurance Law Firm for Assistance

If you have exercised your ERISA rights — whether by pursuing benefits under your insurance plan, whistleblowing, testifying in an ERISA-related inquiry, or exercising any other right granted by ERISA regulation — then it is illegal for your employer to discriminate or otherwise retaliate against you.  ERISA retaliation prohibitions are fundamental to the regulation and its continued efficacy as an enforcement mechanism against “bad actors.”  It’s therefore absolutely critical that you consult with a qualified attorney in the event that you have been subjected to illegal retaliation.

Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin, P.A. is a boutique Miami insurance law firm focused on the provision of comprehensive advocacy to claimants involved in a range of challenging and potentially complex insurance disputes, such as ERISA-related litigation.  Our attorneys have over two decades of experience, and boast a consistent track record of success in the form of significant case results.

We pride ourselves on our commitment to individualized legal representation — unlike many other insurance dispute firms, we stay closely engaged with clients through the entire timeline of the dispute, keeping them fully informed on case developments and answering any questions and concerns they may have.

Call (305) 577-3996 or submit an online case evaluation form to setup a consultation with one of our attorneys.  We look forward to working with you further.

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