The federal Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., has intervened in a case that could have a significant effect on how workers affected by ERISA protect their rights against plan fiduciaries that make unfair changes. A class-action lawsuit representing terminated employees of Wawa, a large convenience store chain, accuses Wawa, its employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) trustees and plan administrators of violating ERISA, the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act of 1974. The law aims to protect employees from losing their pensions, health insurance, disability insurance and other employee benefits due to plan administrators' misconduct.
Many workers in the District of Columbia have benefits plans through their employers that are covered by ERISA. When workers apply for benefits from their ERISA plans and are denied, they can appeal the denials. However, the workers must exhaust the internal appeals within the plan before they can file lawsuits.
Under the law, Washington, D.C., employers do not need to provide their workers with employee benefits like disability insurance or retirement plans. However, many workers specifically choose their jobs because of the attractive benefits on offer, and employee benefits can help companies secure the best and most experienced workers. However, once those benefit plans are in place, companies have an obligation under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974 to handle those benefits responsibly and act according to the workers' best interests. If you are facing serious problems with your benefits, you first need to understand your rights under ERISA.