Do I have to pay for my health insurance while I'm on FMLA leave?

Question

I'm having a baby in a few months, and I'm planning to take time off under the FMLA. I'll be using vacation time to get paid for the first two weeks, and the rest of my leave will be unpaid. I met with my HR representative to go over paperwork yesterday, and she told me I would have to write the company a check every two weeks for my health insurance premium. Is this legal? I thought the company had to pay for my health insurance while I'm on FMLA leave.

Answer

Unless your company normally covers the whole cost of your health insurance, what you've described sounds legal. Your company must continue your health insurance while you are on leave, but they can require you to pay your usual share of the premium.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to maintain group health benefits for employees who take FMLA leave. However, employers don't have to pick up the whole tab unless that is their regular practice. Employers who require employees to pay some portion of their health insurance premiums can continue to require employees to pay that amount while they are off work.

For the two weeks that you'll be receiving paid vacation, your employer can deduct your share of the premium from your paycheck as usual. During the ten weeks when you aren't getting paid, however, you'll have to make other arrangements to pay for your benefits.

The FMLA gives employers several options for collecting premium payments. One option is to require employees to pay their share of the premium at the same time it would ordinarily be due through payroll deductions. In other words, employers may require employees to pay the premium every payday, as yours has.

The FMLA also allows you and your employer to negotiate a different way to pay premiums. For example, you might prefer to make one large payment rather than having to write a check every two weeks. Or, you might ask whether you can prepay your premiums by having a larger amount withheld from your paycheck in the pay periods leading up to your leave. However, your employer must agree to these alternative methods of payment.

Once you agree on a system for making payments, be sure to follow through. If you don't pay your premiums, your employer may terminate your coverage while you are on leave.

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