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An overview of ERISA discrimination

Employment discrimination can be a challenging area for New York employers as well as for their employees. Some of the most obvious areas of interest involve age and disability issues on the job, matters that can lead to legal problems for an employer who is not cautious in handling the dismissal of an employee in one of the protected categories. However, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act also provides certain protections for workers with regard to their employment benefits, and dismissals based on an employer's effort to deprive a worker of these benefits could fit into the category of discrimination.

Reports indicate that claims of wrongful termination related to ERISA protections have increased in recent years. Employee benefits can be costly, and termination might be viewed as a method of removing that obligation to streamline a company's budget. However, termination to keep an employee from becoming eligible for benefits or from filing a claim under a plan for which they are eligible is prohibited by ERISA rules. An employer might dismiss a worker for a different reason, but the timing of eligibility for benefits could create an impression that the benefits are the actual reason for dismissal.

An employee must demonstrate that there is adequate reason to believe that they have suffered intentional adverse treatment because of benefits. However, an employer is provided the opportunity to demonstrate that a termination or other adverse decision was based on legitimate reasons.

An employee dealing with a possible case of work-related discrimination might be unsure of what to do, especially if the discriminatory action in question has not yet resulted in termination. Although a human resources department might be the avenue defined by the company for filing complaints, an employee might first want to discuss the situation with a lawyer to better understand the available rights and options.

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