Venable partner Greg Ossi was interviewed in an October 20, 2016 SHRM article on an employer's ability to reduce or terminate retiree benefits. While private sector companies are not obligated to provide retiree benefits, those that do can reduce or terminate them absent an agreement to the contrary.
Ossie said the issue is a matter of contract law and that if a collective bargaining agreement or other controlling document provides lifetime benefits, the agreement may allow the employer to make changes. "This language usually trumps other language in the agreement," he said, adding, "Employers should be careful not to make promises that contradict their ability to terminate benefits." For companies that plan to terminate retiree coverage, Ossi said it is important to understand plan documents and applicable collective bargaining agreements. "A best practice is to give retirees plenty of advance notices to help bridge the gap of uncertainty," he said.