Failing to provide a timely notice is a major source of COBRA-related lawsuits employers face.
Even if the company relies on a TPA to handle its COBRA administration, it’s still ultimately liable for any violations.
That’s why it’s so important to have proof you did everything possible to make sure the notice was actually sent to the departing employee.
In a recent court ruling, one employer essentially offered a blueprint other companies can use to defeat a COBRA lawsuit when they don’t have proof of receipt.
Ineligible due to misconduct?
In DeBene v. Baycare Health Sys. Inc., DeBene sued Baycare for failing to provide him with a COBRA notice.
DeBene even pointed to a comment by the company’s benefits administrator that he was ineligible for COBRA coverage because of gross misconduct as proof it never sent him a notice. But the company wound up on top in spite of these claims because it had a solid COBRA process in place.
Multiple levels of evidence
Because the benefits admin’s COBRA comment had no bearing on whether the notice was actually sent, the court rejected DeBene’s argument.
Then, the court listed all the evidence the company produced to show the notice was properly sent.
This included evidence the company had coded DeBene in its database as “COBRA-eligible,” transferred that info to its TPA and that a COBRA notice was created and printed within the required time period.
Plus, it showed proof of the TPA’s mailing procedure, a copy of DeBene’s notice and a TPA report showing the date on which it was mailed. The best evidence: proof notices mailed on the same day as DeBene’s were received by other recipients.
Bottom line: Proof of receipt isn’t needed to win a COBRA notice suit. Firms just need to prove the notice was sent in a way “reasonably calculated” to reach the recipient. And this company clearly did that.