Employer: Workplace Benefits FAQs


Q: Can I be fired while out on disability?

  • A: In some circumstances, depending on how long you have has been off work and how much longer it will be before your can return to work. But you can't be fired simply because you went on disability.


Q: Is my employer required by law to offer paid vacations or time off for holidays?

  • A: Providing paid time off for vacations or holidays in private employment - nongovernment - isn't required.If it is offered to one group of people, such as all full-time employees, it must be applied equally to everyone in that group. Generally, offering vacations is more a matter of custom than law to recruit and maintain a skilled workforce or union contract.

    State law determines if unused vacation must be paid on termination. Some states require it and some states do not. If an employer is not required to pay unused vacation, but has established a policy of doing so, the policy must be applied equally to all departing employees. To find out the regulations affecting your company, call your state's Department of Labor.


Q: Must an employer make accommodations for a disabled employee?

  • A: Within reason. But if an employee has a disability that qualifies for Americans with Disabilities Act - ADA - protection, your employer is not required to:
    • Override a valid and already-in-place seniority system
    • Create a new job
    • Lower standards for the position
    • Eliminate essential functions of the position

    However, the employer is required to enter into a dialogue with the employee to try to find a reasonable accommodation that won't place an undue hardship on the company and, at the same time, will allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the position.


Q: Is my employer required to provide health benefits?

  • A: Employers are generally not required to provide any health benefits. Only the state of Hawaii requires employers in the private sector to cover employees who work over 20 hours per week. Union contracts may include provisions for insurance as part of the agreement. However, health care and other benefits such as life or disability insurance are generally offered by employer as a means of attracting and keeping their workforce.

    If an employer does provide health coverage, federal law requires the employer to provide Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act (COBRA) to an employee who loses her job for any reason outside of gross misconduct the opportunity to maintain coverage up to 18 months at her own expense. This applies to companies with 20 or more employees. Some states also have laws with similar protections for employees who work for companies with less than 20 employees.

    Generally, it's not illegal to provide health benefits only to some classes of employees (for example, only to full-time employees but not to part-time employees). But once the eligible classes are established, an employer cannot withhold insurance from some members of the class while offering it to others. The employer can require employees to follow the rules of the plan, which may require an employee to fulfill a waiting period or wait for an open enrollment period before joining.

    An employer can usually change, or even eliminate, a health plan, but must follow the rules and guidelines of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).


Q: What does the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) cover?

  • The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is available time you may take to take care of yourself or a family member if you : 

    • Are employed by a covered employer
    • Work at a site within 75 miles where your employer employs at least 50 employees
    • Have worked at least 12 months - not consecutive - for the employer
    • Have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately before starting FMLA leave

    Public (government) employers are covered by FMLA regardless of whether they meet the 50-employee requirement.

    You may use vacation or personal leave instead of FLMA. An employee may also substitute accrued paid sick or family leave for FLMA leave, but only if the reasons for the leave are covered by the plan. An employer may also have the right to decide whether to apply FMLA time, as long as the employer is provided with proper notice.

    When you return from leave, your employer may return you to the same job or one that's substantially equivalent as long as you return within 12 weeks. If you're out slightly longer than 12 weeks, the employer MAY have to hold your job slightly longer because of Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) protections. But your employer is not required to hold it indefinitely.

    Your state may have additional guidelines, so check with your human resources area to make sure you're following the correct rules.


Q: Does an employer have to offer a retirement program?

  • A: Not usually. But retirement programs, including pension plans, are established by companies as one of the incentives to work for them, and to help employees with retirement needs. If a retirement program is offered, it will usually be a "qualified" plan with favorable tax benefits for the employer.

    In these cases, the employer must follow rules set out in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). ERISA covers the information that must be included in the plan, how the plan will be administered, penalties for failure to follow the act and other certain minimum standards.

    There are two basic forms of retirement programs:

    • Defined benefit plans provide retirement benefits with the employer promising to pay retirees a pension in a specific amount, with the monthly benefit set by a formula of years of service times final average salary times a percentage figure
    • Defined contribution plans provide that the employer will contribute an amount into the plan on behalf of an employee, with the employee typically required to also contribute to his or her own individual account


Q: What is a 401K program?

  • A: A 401K program is a type of defined contribution plan where a portion of an your salary and is contributed into a pension plan. Some plans allow participants to designate how the funds are invested, but the employer may direct investments in some plans. Investments may include annuities or mutual funds. A Summary Plan Description (SPD) must be provided or made available for your review.

    The employer sometimes matches the your contributions. Vesting is when the funds in your plan become yours to take. Your contributions are always 100 percent vested, while employers may ERISA requires the employer provide the employee with a schedule with the time frames available. There are many types, including three- or five-year cliff, or incremental amounts generally not longer than sever years. Some generous employers make their contributions 100 percent invested up payment.

    Each year there is a limit to the amount of funds you may contribute. There are other restrictions such taking loans or hardship withdrawals, and other plan variables.



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