A Chicago ERISA Attorney Answers Common Questions Regarding ERISA Retaliation Claims

Providing health, retirement, and long term disability benefits for employees can be extremely beneficial for both the employer and employees, however, such benefits are not cheap and employers are always seeking ways to cut back on costs. If they want to reduce spending on health plans or pension plans, a company may be tempted to terminate an employee who has a serious medical condition or who has a pension that is about to vest. If this occurs, the employee is not only left without an income but also without access to the benefits they need and deserve. Fortunately, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) prohibits retaliation by an employer based on an employee asserting their rights to benefits under the law.

What Constitutes Retaliation?

Retaliation can occur to either attempt to interfere with your right to attain ERISA benefits or in response for exercising your rights in regard to your ERISA benefits. In order to have a viable claim against an employer for retaliation, you must prove the following elements:

  • You are protected from discrimination and retaliation under ERISA;
  • You engaged in activity that was protected under ERISA;
  • You suffered some type of adverse employment action; and
  • The adverse employment action was connected to your protected activity.

Below, we will expand upon these elements so that you can better understand when retaliation occurs.

Who is protected? Protected individuals include participants or beneficiaries of an ERISA plan. They can include current employees, former employees, or members of organizations or unions who have benefit eligibility under the law.

What activities are protected? There are two main categories of protected activity. First, you are protected if you exercise any rights under a benefit plan that is regulated by ERISA. This can include making a claim, but also includes other activities allowed by your plan as well as your future right to benefits. Second, you are protected if you participate, provide information, or testify for an investigation or proceeding regarding a potential ERISA violation. This protection exists even if you were not directly involved in the violation and is similar to a whistleblower protection.

What qualifies as adverse employment action? When most people think of an adverse employment action, they tend to think of termination. While terminating employment is likely the most common type of adverse employment action, the law includes many additional actions that can be considered to be ERISA retaliation. Some of these include the following:

  • Discipline;
  • Demotion;
  • Suspension;
  • Fines; and
  • Discrimination or harassment.

Proving the connection between your ERISA benefits and the adverse employment action can be challenging since employers will usually present a pretextual reason for the action. However, an experienced ERISA attorney will know how to present evidence of your employer’s intent to retaliate and can assist you in recovering for your losses.

Discuss Your Rights With A Chicago ERISA Attorney As Soon As Possible

Chicago ERISA lawyer Roberts Bartolic LLP focuses on ERISA cases and has the necessary knowledge of this complicated law to assist with your retaliation claim. Please call Roberts Bartolic LLP at 312-635-1600 to discuss your situation today.