With many potential employee qualifying events in the wake of the pandemic, continued health coverage is critical, irrespective of the reason an employee's "at-work" status changes. (All photos: Shutterstock)

"Nothing lasts forever but the certainty of change," sang musician Bruce Dickinson. As we navigate all of the recent changes brought on by COVID-19, one of the areas about which employers may have ongoing questions is the change in employee status and how these changes impact health plans and benefits for employees.

As businesses struggle with the financial impact of the pandemic, many employers are facing difficult decisions concerning keeping people on the payroll, whether to put people on unpaid leave or to furlough–if not terminate–employees completely. When employers make these decisions, they must determine: When is an employee still an employee? Are they on a leave of absence? Is it paid? Is it unpaid? These employment decisions have an impact on benefits and (perhaps) benefits eligibility.

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