An employee recently complained that he was not having enough money withheld and deposited into his retirement account and when he complained enough, he eventually got checks sent to him to recover the amounts that weren't deposited. In this employee's complaint to the court, it says that after he complained, instead of cooperating, the employer actually fired him.
Employment law attorney Paul Mollica, of Outten and Golden, LLP in Chicago, says the district that first heard the case said that under ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act), the employee was not entitled to make claims for retaliation because the statute only covered formal inquiries, such as by a government agency or employer, into the eligibility for benefit status. In this case, it was an informal question about retirement benefits and the court said that informal questions are not covered under ERISA.
However, the 7th circuit rejected that ruling and said that an employee who is a participant in a ERISA plan, such as a retirement plan, is entitled to ask informal questions about their eligibility or entitlement under the plan and that an employer may not retaliate by firing them, demoting them or changing the terms or conditions of their employment, according to Mollica.
This ruling, Mollica notes, is in line with the decision recently made by the US Supreme Court and held it under the Fair Labor Standards Act, that employees do not have to submit formal complaints to be protected.
Mollica believes this case expands the rights of employees. "This is an important decision because many times employees don't know the formal process they need to take in order to protect their employment rights," Mollica says.
Paul Mollica is counsel for Outten and Golden LLP, a law firm focusing on employment law. For more information on Paul Mollica, click here. Paul’s commentary was hosted by The Employment Law Channel, part of The Legal Broadcast Network.