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Archive for May, 2017

Understanding ERISA Plan Fiduciary Responsibilities

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) aims to protect the assets of your plan, but many are not well-informed on the responsibilities of the fiduciary who control or have authority over their plan. The first thing to understand is what a fiduciary is. Simply put, a fiduciary is someone who acts in your interests when it comes to your retirement plan.

The second part is understanding ERISA regulations of employee benefits.

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What ERISA Does

  • Requires plans to inform participants about plan features and funding.
  • Guarantees payment of certain benefits.
  • Requires plan fiduciaries to be accountable for following principles of conduct and may be responsible for restoring losses to the plan.
  • Requires plan sponsors to give enough funding for the plan.
  • Defines how long someone must work to be eligible for a plan.
  • Sets participation, vesting, benefit accrual and funding standards.
  • Gives participants the right to sue for breaches of fiduciary duties.

Fiduciary Standards Set by ERISA

ERISA has a specific set of standards of conduct for a fiduciary that acts on behalf of a plan’s beneficiary. These include:

  • Prudent Expert Rule. All fiduciaries must be experts in their field of decision-making. Even further, they must act with care and prudence when making those decisions, and should use the skill and diligence of others similarly situated.
  • Exclusive Benefit Rule. The functions performed must be in the interest of the plan’s participants rather than the company or the fiduciary. This helps alleviate the risk for conflicts of interest.
  • Diversification Rule. When a fiduciary has control and authority over the investment, they are required to ensure the assets are best diversified. This helps lower the risk for a huge investment loss.
  • Anti- Self-Dealing Rule. Every action must be conducted without any conflict of interest, along with any self-dealing. Under this rule, every type of prohibited transaction is legally required to be avoided.
  • Plan Documents Rule. The fiduciary is legally required to follow the terms and conditions of the plan. This means the fiduciary, no matter how well-meaning, cannot make decisions that fall outside of the plan in place.

If you have concerns about your retirement plan funds, talk to one of our Pennsylvania Workers Compensation lawyers at Vanasse Law today. We will help you navigate the intricacies of ERISA law.

Never Returning to Work is Not a Reasonable Accommodation

In a recent ruling, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals have reaffirmed that not returning to work is not considered a reasonable accommodation. The ruling came from a case where an employee felt he had accrued enough time and benefits to leave until the day after he was set to retire.

When there is no way to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee, or their leave has been deemed indefinite by a medical professional, the options in returning to work are limited. However, this does not leave the employer on the hook with an empty desk chair, even under the ADA.

Even if a worker is not considered permanently disabled, how well they can function in their essential duties can heavily impact whether they can be afforded accommodations. Additionally, an employee cannot leave work without a specific date in which they will return, nor can they leave without any intent of returning, even in the case where they have accrued time enough to retire.

What if I can’t return to work?

Medical Expenses and Workers Comp in Lancaster, PASometimes, returning to work is not an option. However, workers still have options to help them through these difficult times. If you are physically able to work but cannot perform the essential function of your job, you may qualify for the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit. This is issued when you have reached Maximum Medical Improvement but your employer does not offer a job in which you can perform.

This benefit program helps to pay for necessities to return to work, such as a computer and re-vocational training. In some cases, you may also be able to get a re-vocational counselor to help with the transition.

It is important to know employers are not required to offer the same position as they do under FMLA leave. This means an employer can get a worker back in the workplace sooner under a new role, or training for a different position may be available. However, it could also mean a worker may not be as happy upon return. Planning ahead for these nuances could help both the employer and the employee find a solution to work best for the situation.

If you are unable to return to work, contact our Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Vanasse Law today to find out your options. We will help develop a plan for your next stage of life.

Forced Resignation after Injury Grounds for Legal Action

Despite the laws protecting workers following an injury on the job, there are dishonest employers that have forced the resignation of their employees. Forced resignation is treated the same as a termination and leaves already injured employees with a wrongful termination claim on their hands.

Employers try to force out injured workers for a few reasons. One of the biggest reasons is to avoid having to provide the correct accommodations, while others may be trying to avoid a Workers’ Compensation claim. Oftentimes, they try to make the worker decide to leave on their own with hostile work environments, but some even ask the employee to resign outright.

 

Constructive Discharge

Constructive discharge is a legal concept created by the National Relations Board in the 1930s to stop employers from discouraging employees from joining labor unions by making them resign from their positions. Today, the same efforts are used to force injured employees to resign, even if they are not part of a union.

This is done by creating intolerable working conditions or a hostile work environment, or by telling the employee they must resign.

What Constitutes as Intolerable Working Conditions?

Intolerable working conditions go beyond an unsupportive manager or being unhappy at work. Instead, someone claiming such working conditions must prove they were forced to leave by these conditions, and that they came because of their injury. To achieve this, it must be proven that the conditions were objectively intolerable, as opposed to working conditions the employee didn’t like.

In this case, objectively intolerable simply means the average worker in the same job and field would have found the conditions bad enough to feel they had to quit. This is the most difficult part of a legal case when it comes to forced resignations. Some actions an employee can prove include harassment, demotions, or humiliation, along with severely cut hours.

Proving Working Conditions

Typically, there must be tangible action to build a case. There also needs to be proof that there was efficient time and opportunity for the working conditions to be fixed before resignation. It is important for employees who feel they are under poor working conditions to keep track of the conditions, such as having copies of reports or making notes during meetings regarding the conditions.

If you feel you were forced to resign, or feel you can’t continue working under the present conditions, contact our Pennsylvania Workers Compensation lawyers at Vanasse Law today. We will work to protect your rights and hold your employer accountable for their actions.

8 Simple Ways Employers Can Limit FMLA Abuse

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides workers with important protections, but can leave employers vulnerable to its abuse. Administration of these protected leaves can be time-consuming and often confusing. Some proactive steps can go a long way to prevent abuse and hold employees accountable for abuse that may occur.

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The FMLA does also provide employers with protections, with a few simple ways to stay on top of FMLA compliance without disrupting the workplace.

  • Check your policies. Before doing anything else, make sure you know what your policies and procedures include. Updating the current policy can help to alleviate future issues and miscommunications.
  • Require 30 days for foreseeable FMLA leave. Having advance notice helps everyone involved. As an employer, you can plan which projects need addressed before the employee leaves. Of course, not all leaves can be planned, but it will work to help most leaves.
  • Have everything in writing. Written leave requests help keep a company organized and discourage abuse. By using a paper trail, your company will be protected and employees will be less likely to try to work around the system.
  • Measure leave by 12-month period. This can help avoid doubling up on leave when it is measured by calendar year. Some employees will abuse that system by taking their leave at the end of one year, then the beginning of the next.
  • Request employees provide medical certification within 15 days. Documents are the biggest tool against abuse of systems. When this is implemented, companies are better suited to act when a system is abused, and can require re-certification as needed.
  • Require re- As a rule of thumb, try to have employees submit re-certification every 30 days. In some cases, re-certification can be required even more regularly, such as when circumstances change or information comes to light to call the leave into question.
  • Request medical treatments are scheduled around business hours, when possible. Of course, this is not always possible. In those cases, have employees put in writing why it could not be done. This will keep everything transparent, honest and fair.
  • Check in. Keep the lines of communication open and ensure they are doing everything legally. Also, by checking in to see how they are doing, they will be less inclined to abuse the system. This is both because they will have to give updates and because it can help the employee feel the company cares when executed properly.

If you feel your employer is in violation of FMLA laws, contact our Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Vanasse Law today so we can put our years of experience to work for you.