In the United States, employers who have little formal accountability largely manage health and retirement benefits of the working class. Employers face an enormous amount of responsibility to properly manage and protect the health and retirement benefits of their employees and their families. These organizational entities, however, are not subject to similar institutional safeguards as major public pension funds. Thus, Congress enacted the Employment Retirement Income Securities Act to charge employers with fiduciary duties of care over such plans. However, the remedies for those who breach their duty by mishandling funds or arbitrarily dispensing and denying benefits are quite limited. The federal statute that governs preempts all state remedies and all common law tort actions for bad faith. Thus, disappointed policyholders and beneficiaries are limited only to the remedy of ERISA Section 502. ERISA Section 502 establishes an exclusive civil cause of action, but the federal court’s remedy is also quite narrow. Congress’s inclusion of Section 510’s whistleblowing, anti-retaliation provision acts as an additional safeguard to counter employers’ significant lack of transparency and accountability by encouraging employees and pension beneficiaries to bring to light any allegations of fiduciary breach. Given the limited public oversight of ERISA plans, a more expansive interpretation of ERISA Section 510’s whistleblowing provision is particularly important in order to allow it to be an effective, safeguarding mechanism. Despite this, the federal circuits have split in Section 510’s application to internal, unsolicited complaints.
Reinstating Employer Accountability by Protecting All Forms of Whistleblowing: ERISA Section 510,
20 Fordham J. Corp. & Fin. L. 203
Available at: http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/jcfl/vol20/iss1/6