Q. It has been our company’s policy to maintain health insurance coverage for the families of employees who are serving in Iraq. It has recently come to our attention that one such family includes a spouse who is working, and the spouse has declined health insurance coverage at her job because we have been providing it free of charge. I have been asked whether we have an ongoing obligation to provide for this family’s health insurance coverage while our employee is on leave to serve in the military.
A. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) does not require an employer to maintain an employee’s health insurance coverage while the employee is on . Under USERRA, an employer is only obligated to provide an employee with the option to continue paying for his or her health insurance coverage while on leave, similar to COBRA.
If, however, the employer maintains health insurance coverage for employees on nonmilitary leaves of absence, the employer must do the same for employees on USERRA-covered leaves of absence. The reason for this is USERRA requires an employer to treat employees on USERRA leave the same as it treats employees who are on other types of leaves, pursuant to company policy.
Thus, assuming your company would not provide health care benefits to the family of an employee while he or she was out on some other leave of absence (many employers do not), then you have no separate obligation to provide health care benefits for employees serving in the armed forces.
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