Human Resources Q & A of the Day

Question:

We’ve hired a new employee and have agreed to reimburse their COBRA premium until they become eligible for our insurance. They provided us with proof (copies of checks and invoices) that they paid a 3rd party administrator for their COBRA coverage. Is this reimbursement taxable to the employee when processing through payroll?

 

Answer:

An employer could choose to offer to pay for COBRA for some period of time but keep in mind that COBRA premium payment arrangements while sometimes convenient, can expose an organization to potential liability so we also recommend discussing any arrangements with legal counsel to ensure compliance. Specifically, any agreement in writing to pay for COBRA should be reviewed in partnership with legal and be explicit in terms of the boundaries of what will be provided and for exactly how long. Paying the COBRA fees directly to the employee is not unusual but it has different tax implications than paying the insurance carrier directly or paying the employee based on substantiated expenses (i.e. receipts).

Below is a link to a copy of IRS Information Letter 2006-0042 (INFO 2006-0042) discussing a particular case. In that case, the employer paid its former employee’s COBRA premiums. The IRS determined that the payments were excludable from gross income (thus exempt from income taxes and employment taxes) provided that the employer either (a) paid the insurer directly, or (b) paid the employee based on documented expenses. If, however, the employee had the discretion to use the funds for any other purposes (i.e. he or she just got a lump sum cash “COBRA” payment from the employer) the amount would be taxable income. Please note that we cannot provide tax advice to clients and recommend seeking guidance from a tax professional where appropriate.

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