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What Employment Health Benefits are Employees Entitled to During COVID-19?

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus, the United States Government has passed new laws and amended old laws to support employees and employers affected by COVID-19. Specifically, the United States passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), as well as amended the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”), the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”), and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”).

With each new law or amendment, the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) has consistently issued regulations and answered frequently asked questions that many employees and employers have raised regarding the impact of these new laws and regulations. On April 28, 2020, the DOL issued frequently asked questions regarding employee benefit plans, titled “COVID-19 FAQs for Participants and Beneficiaries.” This document addresses many of the health benefit questions that participants, beneficiaries, sponsors, and employers may have regarding COVID-19’s impact on their respective rights and responsibilities.

Are employees covered by their employer’s group health plan if the employer’s physical location closes because of the COVID-19 outbreak?

If an employer’s physical location closes, employees generally remain covered as long as: (1) the employer exists; (2) the employee remains employed; and (3) the employee continues to meet the employer’s eligibility requirements. The DOL suggested that employees reference their Summary Plan Descriptions for determining what coverages the employee can receive during this time. If employees are unsure about their health benefits coverage, the DOL encourages employees to contact their plan administrators for that information. If employees cannot contact their plan administrators during this time, the DOL has provided resources for employees to contact.

Notably, many employees are required to contribute to their group benefit plans. These contributions are likely still due, even if the employee is not currently being paid due to a furlough or something similar in nature. If an employee’s contribution is automatically deducted from his or her paycheck, that employee may need to make the contribution at this time.

If an employee thinks that he or she may be losing coverage as a result of COVID-19, there are options, including special enrollment in another Group Health Plan, COBRA continuation coverage, special enrollment in individual market insurance coverage, or health coverage through a government program. Before making any substantial changes to current coverage, employees should examine the scope of the potential new coverage options. Additionally, if employees are concerned about whether their current health care providers will be covered under the new options, employees should contact their providers and the new health plans to confirm that those providers are in the new network.

If you feel your employment rights have been violated, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Wrady Michel & King. You can contact us online or by calling us at (205) 319-9724.