Yeah, COBRA vs. FMLA, in a simplified nutshell:
: Suppose your job ends. In a previously existing Hobbesian state of nature, that would mean your health plan coverage through your employer would end too. However (unless you got fired for peeing in the watercooler or some other form of misconduct) under the law known as COBRA you have the right to continue your health coverage for up to another 18 months. In this case, I you pay the full amount of your premiums (what your employer was paying plus the part that you were paying ) plus a small amount (up to 2% of the premium) for administrative costs. The law prevents the premium from being jacked up because it's now COBRA coverage.
In some cases, an employer may choose to pay all or part of an employee's COBRA costs.
There are some other things that may qualify you for COBRA coverage besides losing your job -- for example, if you go from full-time to part-time and you no longer work enough hours to qualify for medical coverage because it is only offered to full-time employees. (Offhand, I don't know whether it makes a difference if you go from full-time to part-time voluntarily vs. involuntarily. It might.)
By law, you have the right to unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks (sometimes 26 weeks) if you qualify for this type of leave.* (Some employers may also pay you during part or all of the leave. They may also require you to use up all of your paid vacation first before taking FMLA leave.)
During FMLA leave, your employer usually continues to pay for its share of your health coverage, as if you were still actively at work. I'm not sure how your employee share of the premiums are handled, since if you're on unpaid leave you don't have paychecks from which your share can be deducted. I think you may get billed for your share of the premiums.
It could conceivably happen that while you are out on FMLA leave, something happens that also qualifies you for COBRA (for example, your full-time position is turned into a part-time position, I think). However, this is rare enough that if it happens, employers get in a tizzy and have to call their lawyers to find out what to do. At least that is my impression.
That's about all I know. Or think I know.
*Qualifying for FMLA leave:
The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take job-protected, unpaid leave for specified family and medical reasons. Eligible employees are entitled to:
- Twelve workweeks of leave in any 12-month period for:
---- Birth and care of the employee's child, within one year of birth
---- Placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care, within one year of the placement
---- Care of an immediate family member (spouse, child, parent) who has a serious health condition
---- For the employee's own serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job
---- Any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is on active duty or has been notified of an impending call or order to active duty in the U.S. National Guard or Reserves in support of a contingency operation
- Twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness if the employee is the spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin of the servicemember (Military Caregiver Leave)
Source of above quote: http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/fmla.htm
"I don't know if you can call it a stereotype when I was in a room full of people actually doing it." -- Keith S.