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Discharged for gross misconduct? Then employee isn’t entitled to COBRA coverage

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in Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

Generally, employers that provide health benefits must offer continuing COBRA coverage whenever an employee resigns or is terminated. But that requirement doesn’t apply if the employee was discharged for gross misconduct.

That’s the same standard used for establishing eligibility or blocking unemployment compensation benefits. An employee who isn’t eligible for unemployment because of gross misconduct also isn’t entitled to COBRA benefits.

Recent case: William was a Pennsylvania State Police trooper. During a call involving a psychiatric patient who wanted to harm himself, William worked with a female crisis intervention specialist. William allegedly put his arm around the specialist’s waist and drew her towards him.

She later complained to William’s supervisors. A disciplinary hearing followed and a year after the incident, William was fired for allegedly lying during interviews about what had happened. He claimed only to have accidentally brushed against her elbow, while she and a witness said the touching was more extensive and offensive. William was fired.

He sued, alleging, among other claims, that he had been denied his right to COBRA benefits. He argued that he could not have been guilty of misconduct since he had received unemployment benefits.

But the court looked at all the circumstances and said getting unemployment wasn’t proof William hadn’t committed misconduct when he allegedly lied to investigators. That the employer believed William committed misconduct was obvious from its own hearings. His lawsuit was dismissed. (Gilson v. PSP, No. 1:12-cv-002, WD PA, 2016).

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