Employee rights can be a contentious subject for some people, particularly when it comes to employee benefits. Illegal or unfair treatment by an employer sometimes requires legal intervention. In these cases, it helps to have an attorney who is familiar with employment law and who can devise creative solutions to disputes between companies and their employees. This is true even if voters elect the employer and the employees are public servants, such as law enforcement officers.
The city commission in Hollywood, Florida, is currently in a legal dispute with the city’s police force over the now-defunct Deferred Retirement Option Program, otherwise known as DROP. In September 2011, city residents voted to eliminate the program as part of an overall effort to drastically change public employee pensions and save the city $8.5 million.
However, Hollywood’s police officers contend that the elimination of DROP was illegal. From their viewpoint, once a person has contributed to a retirement system, he or she is entitled to the benefits of that system upon meeting the eligibility requirements. The officers assert that benefits cannot be taken away from the person without his or her consent.
In addition to suing the city, the board of Hollywood Police Officers’ Retirement System voted to admit a police sergeant into DROP. The officer is the first to become eligible for the program after it was dissolved last year. In retaliation, the city commissioners gave approval to a city attorney to file a lawsuit against the board. According to the attorney, the issue comes down to whether the pension is considered a retirement benefit or a change in employee status.
The city of Hollywood is in a tight spot. While the commissioners are sympathetic to the plight of city employees who were cut out of the program just as they became eligible for it, Hollywood is trying to bridge a budget gap of $38 million. It is clear that city employees will need a tough attorney on their side who is able to fight for their employee rights and negotiate the best deal for them.
Source: Orlando Sentinel, “Hollywood OKs lawsuit over cop’s entry into defunct retirement program,” Tonya Alanez, July 18, 2012