Through ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) Congress intended to protect such things as employee pensions, life insurance benefits, disability insurance benefits, health benefits and the like. If these benefits are obtained through a “Plan” created by an employer or an employee organization (like a labor union) then, with some exceptions, ERISA applies. This means that federal law–ERISA–governs whether a worker is entitled to the benefits, what rights the worker has to obtain information, and what remedies the worker has if his (or her) claim for benefits is denied.
It is difficult to overstate the impact of ERISA application. ERISA sweeps away state laws which would normally govern whether there was a right to benefits. ERISA replaces these state laws with a comprehensive set of Federal regulations. State laws involving breach of insurance contract and bad faith do not apply to ERISA plans.
ERISA governs all claims for benefits (whether procured through insurance or otherwise) from an “employee welfare benefit plan.” An employee welfare benefit plan is defined as “any plan, fund, or program . . . established or maintained by an employer or by an employee organization” which provides employee benefits such as life, health or disability. 29 U.S.C. § 1002(1). If your right to benefits is through a plan established by an employer or an employee organization (like a labor union), it is preempted by ERISA.