For group health plans, the ACA requires that benefits be reinstated, if the employee was enrolled prior to leave, and the unpaid leave did not extend for more than 13 consecutive weeks (26 for educational institutions). If an employee was not enrolled in benefits at the time they left (i.e., because they previously waived an offer of coverage), they are not required under the ACA to be reinstated on benefits.
If an employee was in a waiting period, then their time on the waiting period is usually added to whatever remains upon their return. For example, assume an employer’s waiting period is first of the month following 60 days. An employee is temporarily laid off on day 31, due to COVID-19. Upon return to work, 30 days are credited towards the waiting period and the employee should be able to enroll the first of the month following 30 days (because he served 30 days previously). The facts and circumstances, along with terms of the plan should be reviewed to confirm how waiting periods and reinstatement works in specific situations. If leave extends for a longer duration, the waiting period may reset.
(Danielle Capilla, Director of Compliance, Employee Benefits, Alera Group)