My Father's Pension
January 1, 2007 2:36 PM   Subscribe

My father worked at a big american firm (you've heard of it) for 4 years and 2 months and then was laid off in a press-covered company-wide layoff. His benefits package says he's eligible for pension after 5 years of service but it also says "If you are on an approved leave or layoff, you will receive up to 12 months of vesting and benefit service credit for the period of your leave or layoff." When contacted, the company said this was an "involuntary separation" so doesn't count. What should he do? The pension would be his main source of income when he retires.

My father's colleagues experienced this same situation and most of them were able to get the pension after working there >4 and <5 years. What course of action should he take? Can he sue? Is there a government agency to talk to? He has tried contacting (mail and email and phone) the firm and only once got a response about the involuntary separation.

This situation occured about 3 years ago.

He is looking for advice besides "contact a lawyer". No need to precede your advice with IANAL.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total)
It sounds like you receive this vesting only if you were laid off but recalled to work.

Did your father have a pension elsewhere? Was he able to transfer it to the company and thus accrue more than five years?

Does his layoff letter define the involuntary separation?

Many employment lawyers will give you 15 minutes for free. I talked to several when I was involved in an employment case 10 years ago. I garnered enough information to sue the company in small claims court.

How did your father end up at the company? Was he lured away from another firm? If you can make a case for constructive dismissal, his age and ability to find other work may be big factors.
posted by acoutu at 3:33 PM on January 1, 2007

even if he's vested, the benefit for someone working 4 years is not that much.
posted by thilmony at 4:09 PM on January 1, 2007

Was this a layoff or a termination? It sounds like this was a mass termination. If it was a layoff and he never went back to work at said firm, then he probably doesn't vest. If he was offered something else and didn't take it he is probably without recourse.
That said, he should have seen a lawyer three years ago. If it was a termination, and he was 50 or over at the time, he can likely get a little free time with a lawyer who specializes in workplace issues to sort out his options.
This means hiring a lawyer who will be a big pain in the ass to the company that let him go. It is not hard to find lawyers who have successfully gotten settlements from particular firms, and the case would likely be taken on 1/3 contingency if in the States. However, a lot of time has passed.
I could have sued my former employer but didn't, because I got a job I love and I had a number of other things to deal with. If this is a question about ten months' distance from vesting, and there were no work performance problems, a decent workplace lawyer will get your dad 2/3 of what he deserves even now.
posted by nj_subgenius at 4:11 PM on January 1, 2007

Maybe a lawyer can help you. But, unfortunately, this happens here so often. Some companies lay off an employee when they get close to benefits. It helps their bottom line. My uncle was let go after 22 years when he needed 25 years for a full annuity. It sucks. It happens. Good luck.
posted by JayRwv at 4:19 PM on January 1, 2007

I'm assuming this is in the U.S. I am a pension lawyer, but I can't give any advice specific to your father's situation over the internet. But generally speaking here are the things your father absolutely should do: 1) request a copy of the summary plan description. By law pension plans are required to have an SPD that explains the plan terms in language the average employee can understand. This should be the SPD in effect the year he was laid off. 2) He should request a copy of the formal plan document in effect the year he was laid off. This is the more formal document that spells out the rights of participants in more technical legalese.

Unfortunately, no one here can help you determine whether your father is vested. He should see a lawyer. If you were in my office, I could probably determine in a matter of hours (or less) whether this is worth pursuing. I do this for a living, and I can't determine whether he's vested without looking at the plan documents and doing some research. Certainly, no one else on metafilter is qualified to help your father with this. Find a good ERISA (employee retirement income security act) plaintiff's lawyer for your dad. You should act quickly because, as others have mentioned, there are limitations period concerns.

Good luck.
posted by bananafish at 4:42 PM on January 1, 2007

You say he's looking for advice besides "contact a lawyer", but unfortunately, I am a lawyer, and as bananafish says, you pretty much need to contact one.
posted by raf at 4:54 PM on January 1, 2007

I'm curious, why would he want advice other than 'call a lawyer'?

You break your arm, you call a doctor.
You break your toilet, you call a plumber.
Someone breaks the law, you call a lawyer.

Guess what he should do? Call a lawyer.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:02 PM on January 1, 2007

When he began working for this company, he received information about the pension plan (called a Summary Plan Description). Perhaps this gives their definition of "layoff" and "involuntary separation" so that you can know the difference (according to them) and then argue the point using their own definitions (or lack thereof).

If he made contributions to his plan, his contributions were (hopefully) rolled into a 401k? If not, he should check for this.

The US Dept. of Labor regulates pensions - he could check with them.

He might want to read through ERISA.

Pension counselors are available from the Administration on Aging.

He may not want to contact a lawyer because he's put a pencil to this. If your statement is correct, that 4.5 years into a pension is going to be his retirement money AND he's not done anything about this for 3 years, this might not be worth legal efforts to collect.
posted by Houstonian at 5:59 PM on January 1, 2007

I'm curious, why would he want advice other than 'call a lawyer'?

because he probably realizes that having worked there for 4 years, not 40, he's entitled at best to a very, very small pension, and doesn't want to spend money on a lawyer. unless of course the anonymous father was CEo of said company.
posted by matteo at 7:00 AM on January 2, 2007

Guess what he should do? Call a lawyer.

If you don't have something useful to add then don't add anything.
posted by bshort at 7:10 AM on January 2, 2007

Try calling Lewis, Feinberg, Renaker & Jackson. They are good people, and nationally recognized ERISA plaintiffs' lawyers. See if you can talk to Teresa Renaker. You can say that I sent you.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:29 AM on January 2, 2007

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