Workers are stuck paying two-thirds of the cost of health insurance

CAN THEY DO THAT?

March 08, 2006|By CARRIE MASON-DRAFFEN | CARRIE MASON-DRAFFEN,NEWSDAY

I work for a company with about 100 employees. Health insurance is a contentious issue because of the high costs and few options. The company offers two plans, which cost the same. (One bills $200 per employee weekly, the other $800 a month.) The company pays one-third of the amount, and we pay the rest. I pay the equivalent of one-quarter of my take-home pay under either plan. Do we, as employees, have any rights here, or are we stuck with the high cost of health care?

When you begin with the fact that employers don't have to offer health insurance, it's easy to understand that they have a wide latitude in choosing what to offer and how much to charge you for it.

"There is no requirement that the contributions required from employees be reasonable or affordable," said New York employment attorney Richard Kass. "This is why so many Americans who have jobs do not have any health insurance."

Even if you don't have a legal right to better insurance, you may have some "practical leverage," said Kass, of Bond, Schoeneck & King in Manhattan.

"If enough employees convey their unhappiness about the situation," he said, "the employer may decide that it has to improve the health insurance benefit in order to retain and attract qualified personnel and avoid unionization."

I am the former chief executive of a company with five employees. My successor has just cut employees' lunch hour in half, to 30 minutes. The employees work their regular 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule - but with less lunchtime and more work time. Is this legal?

Companies can legally change employees' hours. But they can't change the hours to avoid paying overtime, which kicks in after 40 hours in one week.

If the employees are not exempt from overtime, they have to be paid for all the time they work, which now comes out to an extra half hour a day.

I would advise the employees to form a small group and ask the employer to reconsider. Perhaps they could point out that the new plan is costing the company more money. That could grab the company's attention.

carrie.draffen@newsday.com

Carrie Mason-Draffen writes for Newsday.

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