The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on many small businesses, and many are now struggling to stay afloat. In order to keep going, many small business owners had no choice but to furlough or lay off employees in order to save money. If you are one of them, you might be wondering what your former employees’ health insurance options are after you let them go. Is there still a way you can offer them group insurance? You can choose whether to pay monthly health insurance premiums on behalf of your employees, but if it is not possible due to financial constraints, your employees do have other options.
Furloughed Vs. Laid Off
Health coverage for an employee is determined by the employer’s (your) health plan. The plan indicates how many hours an active employee has to work to be eligible for health insurance. There are also rules surrounding what happens to their health insurance when they are no longer an active employee. When an employee is :
- Laid off, their employment is terminated, even if you are considering the lay off temporary. After an employee is laid off, their health insurance plan ends on the last day of the month they were laid off.
- Furloughed, their hours are reduced, or they might not be working at all. The difference is that they can expect to return to work again when the furlough is over, so they can continue to get health insurance coverage during the furlough period. If this is the case, the employee will either be responsible for their share of the plan’s premiums, or you, the employer, can temporarily waive employee contributions and pay all of their premium.
ERISA & Federal Income Tax Rules
In general, nothing actually prevents you from paying monthly premiums on behalf of furloughed or laid-off employees. You have the option to choose to pay monthly premiums as long as you are able to. The premium will continue to be excludable from the gross income of the employees. Be aware, though, that if the plan rules do not permit an employee to be covered, then you are in danger of:
- Potential loss of tax-exempt status of the plan, which means both you and your employees might owe back taxes, since pre-tax qualification would be lost.
- Your insurance company denying claims for any employees that they determine are not eligible to participate in the plan.
- A possible fiduciary breach under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) if plan assets were used to pay for benefits of non-eligible employees.
Another option to continue coverage for your employees is the COBRA program. Both laid-off and furloughed employees qualify for a Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) plan if their group plan is terminated and you can no longer pay their premiums. COBRA can be expensive for your former employees, because if you do not contribute to their premiums, they will have to pay the full amount.
Last but not least, losing a job is considered a qualifying life event, so a Special Enrollment Period will open up for your former or furloughed employees after they lose their job and their coverage. This means that they will have 60 days to get a health insurance plan on the ACA Marketplace. This could be a cheaper option for your employees than COBRA.
EZ Can Help
The pandemic has actually caused some changes in the way that group health insurance works. For example, some states have issued orders requiring or encouraging insurance companies to allow employers to make changes to their eligibility requirements so they can continue to offer group insurance to furloughed or laid off employees. Some states are even allowing a grace period for premium payments. To find out if your state is one of them, speak to an EZ agent, who can help find out the information for you. If you are interested in continuing to offer a group insurance plan, we can help you find a reasonable way to provide insurance to the employees that you had to let go. The times we are living in are not normal by any means, and we know it is not an easy decision to let go of your valued employees. EZ can help by offering our services for free, which includes checking all possible options, answering any questions, and comparing quotes.
To get started, simply enter your zip code in the bar above, or to speak directly with an agent, call 888-998-2027.