About Employee Benefits
Specified employers are required by law to provide certain employee benefits to eligible workers, such as:
But, contrary to popular belief, employee rights laws do not generally require employers to provide the benefits that many traditionally have.
Except for the few required by laws or employment agreements, providing employee benefits, also referred to as fringe benefits, is voluntary for employers. Providing extras, commonly referred to as perks, is also voluntary.
For example, no Federal law requires employers to provide employee benefits such as vacation leave, sick pay, paid holidays, rest or meal breaks, or health or life insurance plans.
Fewer than half the states have laws that require employers to provide rest or meal breaks for adults. Even fewer states have laws that require employers to provide disability insurance benefits, outside of those provided by workers' compensation.
Even though providing certain employee benefits is voluntary for employers, once provided by policy, your employee rights "legally" entitle you to them. However, because they are voluntary, employers may call most of the shots. For example, they may impose limitations, restrictions and other conditions.
But, to rightfully impose and enforce the conditions of employee benefits, employers typically must properly document and ensure that employees are aware of them in advance, along with the consequences for violations. Employers typically document such conditions in policy manuals or similar documents, which many states consider to be legally-binding implied contracts for both employers and their employees.
If your employer made you aware of the consequences for violating a properly-documented company policy, but you don't follow the rules anyway, your employer might have the right to deprive you of the related employee benefit and maybe even fire you. But, if you take it to court, the court will likely consider all factors to determine whether or not your employer really had good cause to fire you for policy violation.
If your employer fires you for gross misconduct, such as for a serious criminal or sexual misbehavior, you might not even be entitled to the employee benefits required by law, such as state unemployment benefits. However, you might have the right to appeal a denial of benefits.
Because employers voluntarily provide certain employee benefits, you have few government offices to which to turn for help should your employer wrongfully deprive you of some aspect of such an employee benefit. Consequently, you might have little choice but to file a lawsuit through an attorney.
But, if your employer robs you of the pay to which you were rightfully entitled under an employee benefit policy, the wage and hour (or equivalent) division of the relevant state labor department might help you collect it.
If your employer cheated you out of an employee benefit solely for a discriminatory reason, then you likely may file a discrimination charge directly with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a state equivalent, or with one or the other through an attorney.
If your employer cheated you out of an employee benefit solely as retaliation, then you might be entitled to file a complaint with the government agency that enforces the law under which such retaliation is prohibited. Alternately or additionally, you might be entitled to file a lawsuit through an attorney.
A few employee benefits voluntarily provided by employers are regulated by Federal or state government offices under relevant laws, to ensure that employers establish and maintain them in a fair or financially-sound manner.
For example, pension and health benefits voluntarily provided by employers are regulated to a degree by the Federal Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), often referred to as the Employee Benefits Administration for short. The EBSA also regulates certain employee benefits that are required by law, such as COBRA extended group health insurance benefits.
Browse the ESBA Web site for more information about Federally-regulated employee benefits and related laws. Also browse the relevant state labor department's site for information about state-regulated employee benefits and related laws. Alternately or additionally, consult an attorney.
If your employer deprives you of an employee benefit to which you're rightfully entitled under a collective bargaining agreement, it might be a good idea to consult your local union representative before seeking a remedy as indicated above or any other. Such agreements often include arbitration clauses to which union-represented employees are legally bound.