Q: I just left my company and I was told my benefits ended on my last day of work. I thought I would be eligible for COBRA. When I asked my former manager, she said that I was ineligible for COBRA because my former employer is too small. Can you help me understand this?
A: I hate surprises. Good ones or bad ones, but bad surprises especially.
Most of us know a bit about COBRA, a federal law requiring most employers to offer benefits continuation after an employee leaves an organization. The federal COBRA law only requires employers with 20 or more employees to offer benefits continuation. However, Massachusetts has a law very similar to COBRA, called MiniCOBRA. MiniCOBRA requires most employers, with 2-19 employees, to provide benefits continuation to employees who have lost coverage. Although leaving an organization is probably the most common reason for being eligible for either COBRA or MiniCOBRA, there may be situations where an employee loses coverage for another reason (e.g., a reduction in work hours). Both of these laws require employers to offer benefits continuation to employees who have lost coverage, but also family members who have lost coverage. Here is a link that will share some useful information on MiniCOBRA http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/insurance/health-insurance/consumer-guides/minicobra.html.
Employers can deny an employee benefits continuation for very limited reasons. “Gross misconduct” can disqualify an employee from benefits continuation. Although the laws don’t define exactly what this means, most agree that a termination for tardiness or poor performance are not legitimate “gross misconduct” reasons for disqualifying an employee from benefits continuation rights. Legitimate reasons for denying benefits continuation rights might be theft or committing some some type of violent act within the workplace.
I would re-connect with your former employer after you have had a chance to review information on COBRA and MiniCOBRA. Your employer may not aware of the state law.