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Health insurance benefit continuation rights apply if the employer has twenty or more employees (be careful not to promise COBRA rights that do not exist, since the company could be forced to extend such continuation coverage anyway if the conditions for equitable estoppel are met - see the discussion of the Thomas v. Miller case in "Other Types of Employment-Related Litigation" in the outline of employment law issues in part IV of this book).
The law does not apply if the employee was terminated for "gross misconduct", but the burden of proving that is on the employer - for a good case listing many examples of what courts consider gross misconduct under COBRA, see Boudreaux v. Rice Palace, Inc., 491 F.Supp.2d 625 (W.D.La. 2007).
In most cases, COBRA provides for continuation of health plan coverage for up to 18 months following the work separation.
COBRA rights accrue once a "qualifying event" occurs - basically, a qualifying event is any change in the employment relationship that results in loss of health plan benefits.
In the case of an employee with a spouse (see your state's definition of "spouse"), it is essential that an employer notify both the employee and the employee's spouse of the employee's COBRA rights.
The U.S. Department of Labor's general guide on COBRA for employers is accessible in PDF format at http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/cobraemployer.pdf (PDF file).
The official DOL help line for COBRA questions is 1-866-444-3272.
Texas "COBRA" law - the Small Employer Health Insurance Availability Act requires health benefit continuation rights for employees (and their beneficiaries) of company health plans if the company has two to 50 employees; the state law is very similar to the federal law, but with a shorter benefit continuation period (up to nine months following the qualifying event if the employee was not covered by the federal COBRA law); if the employee had federal COBRA coverage as well, six months of continued coverage under Texas law are available, beginning after the federal COBRA period expires; more information is available from the Texas Department of Insurance at http://www.tdi.state.tx.us/pubs/consumer/cb040.html.
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