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Who is covered under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act?

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The Employee Retirement Income Security Act describes a number of laws at the federal level that are meant to protect workers who have profit-sharing, retirement, pension or health insurance plans provided by a private employer. Employers who fall under ERISA must provide certain information to employees, perform fiduciary duties as legally obligated and provide processes for grievance reporting and appeals when employees have issues with plans.

But not all employers who provide such plans are covered under ERISA. If you work for a federal employer who provides a retirement or pension plan, then you are not protected by ERISA. In fact, any type of government employee - whether federal, state or local - is not protected by ERISA if pensions or other plans are provided by those governments. If you are an employee covered by government plans, then you would not be able to file a claim under ERISA.

It's important to note that ERISA law does trump state laws that relate to such plans and coverage. If a state law covers a private-employer provided plan, but that law contradicts something in the ERISA provisions, then ERISA provisions stand. This is an important distinction to understand if you are seeking protection under ERISA laws.

Why would you need to know if you are covered by ERISA? If you believe your employer or the administrator of any of your plans is not appropriately handing your funds and accounts - according to their fiduciary duty - you can file a lawsuit alleging such a complaint. You can also file an ERISA lawsuit if you believe you are not being provided with the appropriate benefits under you plan.

Source: FindLaw, "ERISA Violations: Penalties and Punishments," accessed April 15, 2016

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