In October 2011 I was put on unpaid furlough indefinitely. I was a W-2 employee of a staffing company that sent me onsite to a client. The staffing company was seeking to appease the wishes of the client who wanted to retain my services on an on-call/callback nature and not pay me at all for several months. I have documentation that this was a cost reduction measure and not anything punitive/performance related.
January 2012, the client wants to bring me back on. I refuse for various reasons, one of them being that I have now been forced to find another position. Another that it was a hostile work env. I refused to go back to work in LATE JANUARY.
March 2012 - recd COBRA notice saying that I had a 'qualifying event' in OCTOBER.
COBRA is a federal law. It is triggered by loss of coverage. What you do not discuss is whether they were providing health care coverage between October 2011 and March of 2012. it sounds as though they paid premiums for you and then when you refused to stay on call, they terminated your coverage retroactive to October. What is critical is what the COBRA notice says.
If it is requesting COBRA premiums back to October, they may have some issues. First off, health care premiums are paid in advance. So, in most cases, unless you were put on furlough on September 30, 2011, the October premium was already paid.
It is somewhat aggressive to go back to October. What you would normally expect is that as part of the furlough they agreed to pay your health care premium in exchange for your being "on call."
In January, when you told them you were not interested in going back, they probably decided to stop paying your premiums. Assuming that you told them you did not want to go back after December 31, 2011, the January premiums would have already been paid and you would lose coverage February 1, 2012. Letting you know about COBRA in March with a February 1 qualifying event is not that out of the ordinary.
You may need to contact an attorney if they are seeking to go back to October. When an employer fails to give a COBRA notice, the typical 18 months of coverage does not start until the notice is given, however, the effected individual has to pay premiums back to the date the coverage was lost. Because the employer did not give appropriate notice, they many times do not request premiums for months before they gave the COBRA notice.
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