Houston Employment Law Blog

Understanding ERISA’s Mental Health Parity Act

Mental health struggles have become an epidemic in the U.S. In Texas specifically, one out of five adults will experience a mental health issue this year. Sadly, more than 20% of children ages 9-17 are already diagnosed with mental health problems.

Being that it’s so common, nearly everyone is affected by the struggle with mental health in some way—whether the affected individual is you or someone you love. The government has put in regulations to ensure that private sector health plans cover the widespread problem of mental illness in the form of The Mental Health Parity Act, which is one of the most significant amendments to the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in recent years.

How to determine if a salary is fair

Employees in Texas and throughout the country may be curious to know if they are being paid the same as colleagues who perform similar jobs. However, it is generally not acceptable to simply ask people to talk in detail about their annual salaries. Instead, it is a good idea to look at statistics provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers can use that data to see how their annual salaries compare to others in their field.

It is a good idea to take cost of living and other variables into consideration when determining if a salary is fair or not. Those who live in cities where housing costs more could be paid more to compensate for that fact. It is also important to take into account education and experience into account when determining if a salary is fair or compares favorable to others in similar fields.

You can obtain benefits, regardless of subjective symptoms

A disabling condition can change your life. Not only can it physically drain you, but it can cause you a considerable amount of emotional and financial stress as well. It can keep you out of work and from participating in the activities you love.

Your rights under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) often should cover your long-term disability benefits from your employer. These benefits can help to significantly reduce the financial burden on you and your family. 

Labor Department raises overtime threshold for salaried workers

A decision from the U.S. Department of Labor has made it possible for 1.3 million more salaried workers to collect overtime pay. The federal government has lifted the salary threshold for mandatory overtime pay to $35,568. In 2016, the Obama administration had set the threshold at roughly $47,000, but a federal court judge in Texas had deemed the threshold too high and therefore likely to include too many salaried managers.

The previous overtime threshold had only applied to workers earning annual salaries under $23,660. The government had established that amount in 2004. Once the new threshold goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, salaried workers making up to $35,568 will have a right to receive 1.5 times their normal pay for hours worked beyond 40 hours in a week. Some salaried workers who earn above the threshold might potentially have a right to overtime pay as well if their duties are not primarily related to management.

The potential consequences of an ERISA violation

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act provides several protections for those who receive benefits from their employers. For example, Houston companies that are covered by ERISA must tell employees how a retirement plan or pension is funded or what its key features are. They must also create a system that allows employees to submit grievances or appeal any decision that is not in their favor. Finally, employers subject to ERISA must act in a fiduciary capacity toward plan participants.

Parties that are referred to as fiduciaries must act in the best interests of those who they serve or represent. Most violations of ERISA are related to improperly denying benefits to employees or not acting in a fiduciary capacity. A plan administrator or other relevant party who is found guilty of an ERISA violation could be subject to both civil and criminal penalties.

The energy sector has a pay equity problem

It is common knowledge that women in general do not earn the same amount as their male counterparts.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “women, on average, earn less than men in nearly every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women.” This gender wage gap is especially glaring in the energy sector.

Women in Houston’s tech industry have very little wage gap

In Houston, there’s one industry where the wage gap between men and women employees is virtually nothing: the tech industry. According to a 2019 study by SmartAsset, Houston female tech employees make 99% of what male employees do. That’s the highest percentage in the country.

SmartAsset also ranked Houston fourth overall as the best U.S. cities for women in tech, noting that after housing costs female employees take home $60,646, and in the last four years, the number of technology jobs in Houston has grown 19%.

Lyft wage audit shows pay is equal for its female employees

For many female workers, the pay gap is a constant reminder that pay inequality still exists. But more companies have tried to fix the pay gap by auditing their pay practices. These audits show companies where inequalities exist in their pay structures, letting them fix mistakes.

Lyft recently reported that their most recent audit found no gap between male and female employees. Companies that adopt and use these audit systems take another step closer to pay equity.

CDC settles overtime, FLSA claims for $11 million

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has agreed to settle a wage and hour dispute with employees for a total of $11 million. Texas and federal laws require employers to make certain minimum payments to employees, including obeying minimum wage requirements and paying overtime to qualified employees. The settlement agreement in the CDC case came after claims were made by employees that they were not being paid overtime by the agency. The union that represents the employees made a grievance filing in May 2016.

Thousands of employees stand to receive compensation in connection with the legal action. An emergency response specialist with the CDC was the first to raise the issue with his union representatives at the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2883. He said he later learned that he was not the only employee being affected, but was a small part of a much larger problem. The union grievance focused on two separate issues, non-payment of overtime and incorrect designations under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Experiencing unequal pay? Here’s are some tips to narrow the gap

Pay equity issues continue to be a hot topic of debate as women have historically been paid less – as much as 20% less than men for the same tasks. While the gender pay gap has been slowly improving since the 1970’s and solutions are continually being discussed there is definitely still a gap.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, weekly earnings for men and women differ between $114 for those aged 25 to 34 and gradually increases to a staggering $289 difference when men and women reach the ages of 55 to 64 years old.

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Warren & Siurek, L.L.P.
3334 Richmond Avenue, Suite 100
Houston, TX 77098

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