The basic purpose of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, is to set minimum standards for voluntary pension and health plans. It's a piece of legislation meant to protect the interests of plan participants in Washington, D.C., and other states and their designated beneficiaries. However, there are times when certain benefit plans are not set up in a way that keeps the best interests of participants in mind.
In some cases, civil or criminal ERISA benefits claims litigation is necessary because of benefits violations. Many of the common ERISA violations are civil in nature. For instance, a plan may not be operated prudently or in the best interests of participants. There have been instances where plan assets were used to benefit the plan administrator and other specific parties. Employers are also not permitted to take adverse actions like termination or issuing fines because employees exercise their rights under a specific plan.
Not properly valuing plan assets as per current market value, holding plan assets in a trust, failing to select and monitor service providers, and not adhering to the plan's terms are among the other ERISA civil violations that could lead to legal action. ERISA also has provisions specific to possible criminal violations that may be taking place with plans covered under this act. Such violations may involve embezzlement, kickbacks or false statements that fall under the federal criminal code specific to federal crimes and criminal procedures, Title 18. Employers or plan operators may also be held responsible if facts are falsified, concealed or omitted from plan-related documents.
When a civil or criminal ERISA violation is suspected, employees are often advised to make an attempt to address issues through work-related avenues. If such efforts fail, an attorney may conduct an investigation and pursue appropriate legal action on behalf of an employee if violations are discovered. A lawyer may also recommend steps to take with situations involving improper denial of benefits or other instances of not adhering to ERISA regulations regarding the setup and management of qualified benefits plans.