Company Theft and COBRA

Q: I recently was terminated from my job. I was stupid. I used a company credit card to buy things for my apartment. I got caught. I plan to pay the company back. I thought I would be offered COBRA so I can continue my benefits. I was told by my HR Rep that I could not continue my benefits since my termination can be classified as “gross misconduct.” Have you ever heard of this or are they playing hardball?

A: What an unfortunate situation. It sounds like you knew you should not be using the company credit card, but you did anyway.

Your HR Representative has shared accurate information. You can be denied COBRA, because of the reason for your termination. Many would agree that stealing from the company fits into the definition of “gross misconduct.” Worse, your former employer may be pressing charges against you for theft and they will also very likely protest your claim if you file for unemployment benefits.

You may want to consider researching benefits options through the Massachusetts Health Connector, assuming you live in Massachusetts. The Health Connector offers a variety of plans through a variety of well-established carriers. The number for The Health Connector is 1-877-MA-ENROLL (1-877-623-6765).

You also may be able to access coverage another way. If you have a spouse or domestic partner, you may be able to join his or her plan since your termination is a qualifying event. A qualifying event can be anything from a divorce to a reduction in hours (which sometimes makes an employee ineligible for benefits).

Finally, my hope is that you have learned a valuable lesson. The decision to use your former company’s credit card will likely haunt you for many years, particularly if your former employer decides to press charges against you.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.