Employees who experience a “COBRA-qualifying event” and would otherwise lose group health coverage are entitled to elect to continue their group health coverage under federal law – COBRA. For those employers not covered by COBRA (who have fewer than 20 employees), Louisiana has a group health insurance continuation statute that also allows employees to continue group health coverage, but for a shorter period of time than under COBRA. Many employers recognize a termination of employment as a triggering event under COBRA (or the Louisiana statute), but a reduction in hours, extended leave, or furlough (for example) may also be such a trigger. This can be true even if the employee is paid during the leave or furlough, as employees who are not actually working may not satisfy the eligibility requirements set forth in the group health plan documents. This will depend on the terms of the plan. Under federal law, an FMLA leave of absence is not considered a COBRA-qualifying event. However, if an employee needs extended leave for issues related to the coronavirus that is unrelated to FMLA leave, that absence from work (and the reduction in hours worked) could be a COBRA-qualifying event under the terms of the employer’s group health plan. Again, the group health plan will dictate when an employee must be provided notice of the opportunity to continue coverage, and the terms of the plan govern. Each group plan will vary, so employers must know what their plans say regarding (i) employees who are still employed, but not actively working, and (ii) those employees’ rights to continue group health insurance.
If you have questions, please contact Kean Miller labor and employment attorneys, Brian R. Carnie (318.562.2652), Chelsea G. Caswell (225.382.3405), A. Edward Hardin, Jr. (225.382.3458), Scott D. Huffstetler (225.389.3747), Erin L. Kilgore (225.389.3712), Michael D. Lowe (318.562.2653), Zoe W. Vermeulen (504.620.3367), and David M. Whitaker (504.620.3358).