Government offices take sides in important employment matter

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was signed into law in 1974 and became effective in 1975. It set certain standards that employers must meet whenever they offer retirement plans to workers. There were exemptions built into the law and many religious organizations benefited from those allowances. However, the exemption may now be consistently applied to church-run hospitals. There are potentially thousands of workers in California who could be negatively affected by this crucial employment matter.

The Department of Labor has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, requesting that hospitals operated by church organizations be exempted from the requirements that other employers must meet in regard to employee retirement accounts. Four other government offices have joined the DOL in this request. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation,  the Internal Revenue Service, the Treasury Department and the Justice Department all appear to have sided with employers concerning this issue.

In response to this approach by the DOL, civil lawsuits have been filed on behalf of thousands of hospital workers. The decision to file the brief with the top court has the appearance that the government agencies are not supporting the rights of workers. The lawsuits make the assertion that these workers may now not have access to retirement benefits as there is a projected shortfall of an estimated $4 billion.

The suits assert that the religious organizations mishandled the plans under their supervision in part because of the exemption clause in the ERISA. The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet announced whether it will entertain arguments on this issue. As is evidenced by the civil claims that have already been filed, California workers typically have the right to seek redress when they feel that they have been treated unfairly in regard to retirement and pension benefits. An attorney who is skilled in workers' rights can provide assistance in this or any other serious employment matter.

Source: bna.com, "Feds Break Silence, Back Hospitals in Church Pension Battle", Jacklyn Wille, Jan. 30, 2017

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