Competitive health benefits are an essential part of any full-time compensation package, often motivating individuals to choose one job over another. What happens to those benefits, however, when your employment is wrongfully terminated? Can you continue to receive health benefits while you pursue a claim against your employer? When you need information on how to avoid losing the coverage you depend on, it’s time to speak with a wrongful termination attorney in Jackson County, Missouri.
Can You Keep Your Health Insurance While Fighting a Wrongful Termination?
After you are terminated, your ability to continue the health insurance coverage you received at work depends on the nature of your employment and the circumstances under which you were fired. Choosing to pursue a wrongful termination claim should have no bearing on your access to coverage. Therefore, individuals who qualify for post-termination benefits can fight their termination while still receiving coverage.
Who Is Entitled to Receive Health Benefits After Being Terminated?
Most employees are eligible for continued health benefits in the event of being terminated if they have full or part-time status with their employer. Both federal and state statutes exist to protect employees and their dependents from unexpected gaps in their coverage.
Additionally, an individual’s contract might specify severance benefits exceeding those required by the law. Continued health benefits may only be denied if the termination occurred as a result of gross misconduct on the part of the employee.
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986 is a federal law that provides terminated employees with continued access to their employer’s health insurance plan for up to 18 months following the end of their employment.
Disabled individuals may be able to apply for an extension of their COBRA benefits beyond the 18-month limit. According to the law, all employers with more than 19 full-time employees must participate in the program.
It is the employer’s responsibility to notify an employee of their right to elect COBRA coverage within 44 days of a qualifying event, such as termination. The employee is responsible for paying for the entire cost of the plan. Part-time employees, full-time employees, spouses of eligible employees, dependents of eligible employees, and retirees may be eligible for COBRA.
Mini-COBRA in Missouri
In Missouri, you may be eligible to participate in the COBRA program even if you work at a company that has fewer than 20 employees. The Missouri State Continuation law is similar to the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. It extends COBRA responsibilities to smaller employers, increasing the number of employees across the state who would be eligible for continued coverage in the event of a termination, wrongful or not.
Employment Contracts and Severance Policies
Some employers offer severance packages that include health benefits. While not required by law, your contract might specify that your employer is obligated to continue your health coverage for a limited period of time beyond your termination. Regardless of your individual contract, you may be entitled to a severance package according to terms published in a company employee handbook or if your company has a history of offering severance to other employees.
Choosing to Fight a Wrongful Termination
Even with a competitive severance package and/or continued health benefits under COBRA, losing your employment is an incredibly disruptive life event. Furthermore, if your termination constituted a violation of your rights as an employee, you may be dealing with a significant amount of frustration and anger toward your employer.
Choosing to fight a wrongful termination could result in reinstatement and/or compensation for the losses you sustained. Depending on the strength of your case, a wrongful termination settlement could cover:
- Any income you lost
- Lost benefits
- Emotional distress and psychological treatments
- Your legal fees
- Punitive damages
What Is Wrongful Termination?
Wrongful termination occurs when an employer oversteps the limitations of at-will employment by terminating an employee in violation of public policy or anti-discrimination statutes. According to public policy, employers cannot fire employees for performing jury duty or exercising their right to adequate wages and time off as specified by current legislation.
Examples of wrongful termination include firing an employee for:
- Fulfilling military obligations
- Taking time off according to the Family and Medical Leave Act
- Pregnancy leave
Furthermore, employers cannot fire employees for refusing to engage in illegal activities. If an employee reports any illegal conduct in the workplace, he or she is protected under whistleblower laws. If you believe you have grounds for a wrongful termination claim, a wrongful termination attorney in Jackson County, Missouri can help you review your case and identify potential outcomes.
How to File a Wrongful Termination Claim
If you decide to pursue a wrongful termination settlement from your employer, your lawyer will inform you on how to report the incident and file a demand for compensation. Observing the statute of limitations and following legal procedures can help you keep your case valid and prevent unnecessary delays. Cases involving discrimination must be investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before further legal action can be taken.
Strengthening Your Case
Many individuals hesitate to file wrongful termination claims because they believe they do not have the resources needed to go up against a big company. Working with a credible employment law firm can show your employer that you are serious about holding them accountable and that your attorney is prepared to leverage the body of legislation intended to protect you.
As you prepare your case, your attorney will focus on:
- Establishing your rights according to your employment documents
- Reviewing all relevant employment legislation
- Thoroughly investigating the circumstances of your termination
- Identifying witnesses who were familiar with your work environment
- Collecting evidence of the communication between you and your employer
- Uncovering your employer’s HR policies and practices
Can You Get Your Health Benefits Back After You Have Been Wrongfully Terminated?
If you never received information on COBRA from your employer, their failure to notify you of your right to access continued coverage constitutes a further violation of employment law on top of the wrongful termination. Accordingly, you may have additional grounds to pursue a claim against them. If your claim is successful, you may be able to choose reinstatement in your old position, in which case your original health benefits would be restored.
Alternatively, some employees prefer to pursue employment elsewhere. In that case, you may be eligible to demand compensation for the costs associated with your job search. Upon signing the next employment contract you accept, you will be able to terminate your COBRA benefits and participate in the plan sponsored by your new employer.
How to Find a Wrongful Termination Attorney in Jackson County, Missouri
Our employment lawyers provide legal expertise that can help you navigate difficult and unforeseen transitions. Whether you know that you will pursue a wrongful termination settlement or just want to understand your rights as an employee, we will provide you with the information you need to address all the critical issues surrounding a conflict with your employer. For a free consultation, contact (816) 320-6848.
As a full or part-time employee, your right to continued health benefits for a limited period of time following termination is non-negotiable. If you believe you were terminated illegally, we will help you fight for a settlement without jeopardizing the coverage you and your dependents need. For more information on health benefits and wrongful termination cases, contact Holman Schiavone, LLC.