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Employment Law: Employee Benefits

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Regulatory & Policy
Employment Law
Employee Benefits

Employment lawyers specializing in employee benefits and compensation issues are often called “benefits lawyers.” Their practice focuses on federal and related state regulation of workplace benefits, such as stock options, family and medical leave, severance pay, and retirement, health and disability benefits. Sometimes you may hear these lawyers referred to as ERISA attorneys, but handling ERISA cases is typically just a subset of the benefits work they do. In many law firms, an employee benefits practice may fall into the “business” side of the firm or sometimes it may be part of a firm’s employment law department. While many employee benefits attorneys are in private practice, there are also employment opportunities in-house with larger companies doing ERISA or other benefits work or perhaps in the human resources department.

Unlike other traditional employment law practices, employee [...]

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Employment lawyers specializing in employee benefits and compensation issues are often called “benefits lawyers.” Their practice focuses on federal and related state regulation of workplace benefits, such as stock options, family and medical leave, severance pay, and retirement, health and disability benefits. Sometimes you may hear these lawyers referred to as ERISA attorneys, but handling ERISA cases is typically just a subset of the benefits work they do. In many law firms, an employee benefits practice may fall into the “business” side of the firm or sometimes it may be part of a firm’s employment law department. While many employee benefits attorneys are in private practice, there are also employment opportunities in-house with larger companies doing ERISA or other benefits work or perhaps in the human resources department.

Unlike other traditional employment law practices, employee benefits have a significant transactional component. Employee benefits lawyers work with a variety of companies from startups to mature public companies. They are involved from the beginning of a client relationship when founders are contributing assets to the venture so that it is advantageous from a tax benefit to both the founder and the company. They advise on and draft stock option and various other benefits plans. They routinely are also called on to advise, negotiate and draft high-level employment and severance agreements. Employee benefit lawyers frequently advise their colleagues on public and private financings and other “deals.” No M&A deal or restructuring can happen without a careful review of the target company’s benefit programs and advice concerning post-closing benefit issues such as “golden parachute’ severance payments, plan mergers or asset and liability transfers. Employee benefits lawyers are always an important part of any public company client team to assist with the myriad disclosure issues that arise with executive compensation issues, as executive compensation has been a “hot button” issue for both the SEC and the public for some time now.

Benefits lawyers may also specialize in litigating employment benefits cases. Or they may be asked to assess a company’s obligations regarding employee stock options in a shareholder suit. It’s one area of law where an attorney can have a real mix of transactions, litigation and counseling. Regardless of the mix, every benefits lawyer needs to have a solid grounding in corporate finance to understand how benefits factor into a corporation’s bottom line and an expertise in tax law to fully understand the tax ramifications of benefit decisions on both the company and its employees.

 
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