Health Insurance

Workers' Rights During COVID-19

Furlough and Layoff: As a general rule, the terms “furlough” and “layoff” are synonymous in labor law unless the parties give one or the other term a special meaning. For purposes of unemployment compensation law, it makes no difference what the employer calls it, if the employer's reason for separation or a reduction in hours is a “lack of work.”


If a social worker is “furloughed” (e.g., required to take one or more days without pay, or partial pay), the social worker would likely still qualify for health insurance if the employer continues providing coverage to employees under the group policy. If an employment contract or employee handbook exists, a review of the terms of the contract or handbook is necessary in order to determine whether health insurance is covered during a furlough.

Some states have limited the employer’s or insurer’s ability to drop employee health coverage during furloughs or in certain other circumstances during the pandemic.

Social Worker is Quarantined or Contracts COVID-19

As noted above, if a social worker is quarantined or contracts COVID-19, they may be eligible for up to 10 days of paid sick time under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The social worker would still pay their share of the health insurance premium in accordance with any contract or employment agreement.

COBRA Insurance During Lay-off

There is no federal requirement that an employer carry insurance for an employee after the employee has been laid off unless an employment contract requires it. If social workers are laid off, they may elect continuation of coverage as follows:

COBRA Continuation Coverage

For health plans with at least one active employee enrolled, all former employees that work for an employer with 20 or more employees are eligible for continuation coverage under COBRA. For employees that lose coverage, there will also be a special enrollment period and waiver of certain enrollment procedures when coverage is purchased on the federal exchange.

Employees that work for an employer with fewer than 20 employees may elect to continue coverage under state continuation coverage for up to 12 months, as long as one person remains actively employed and enrolled in the plan. If no active employees remain covered under a plan, COBRA and a continuation coverage are not available. However, the impacted employees will be eligible for a special enrollment period in which they can enroll in new coverage.

Special Enrollment on Federal Exchange

Employees may enroll on the federal exchange or may purchase a policy outside of the federal exchange. Individuals and their families applying for coverage on the federal exchange can qualify for premium subsidies if they meet the criteria for those subsidies. Plans are effective on the first day of the next month after enrollment. If employees buy policies outside of the federal exchange, the insurer must waive normal special enrollment procedures and allow applicants to obtain coverage effective the day after the loss of their employment.


The information in this website is provided as a service to members and the social work community for educational and information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice . We provide timely information, but we make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to this website and its associated sites. Its transmission is not intended to and does not create a lawyer-client relationship between NASW or the authors, and you. You should not act based solely on the information provided in this website. Laws and court interpretations change frequently, and applicable state laws are not addressed. Legal advice must be tailored to specific facts and circumstances. Nothing reported here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.