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Supreme Court to rule on hospital pensions

People in California who work for church-affiliated hospitals might be interested to learn that the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments about whether those hospitals can be considered religious nonprofits. If so, their pension plans will continue to be exempt from Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 rules.

Hospital employees say that the ERISA exemption has led to the underfunding of their pension plans while the hospitals involved in the case maintain they should be exempt. A lower court has already ruled that the plans are not exempt. If the hospitals are not successful, they could owe billions of dollars to about one million employees.

The court heard oral arguments on March 27. These focused on how ERISA defines a church and on the weight that should be given to IRS letters that gave the pension plans church status. However, the employees' attorneys argued that the hospitals should not be granted this status since the church was not directly involved with the hospitals. In addition, they say that the employees deserve the same pension protection enjoyed by workers at other companies.

Workers who feel that their employee rights are being violated in any way at work, whether in relation to pension plans or other pay issues, might want to speak to an attorney. In some cases, issues may arise because there are no existing final legal rulings yet. However, other cases may have legal precedent. While many employment issues can be resolved in the workplace without turning to a legal solution, an employee might feel better-equipped to present their case to their employer after talking with an attorney. Furthermore, a lawsuit might be able to assist an employee in negotiations with the employer or even a lawsuit if necessary.

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