The Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide coverage for full-time employees but not part-timers. That sounds like a straightforward and reasonable provision, but as usual the devil is in the details. ACA opponents have taken up the argument that this provision is a “job killer” because it will cause employers to limit employees’ hours, thereby pushing people into part-time roles to deprive them of benefits. That view strikes me as simplistic, since in my experience companies are in business to make money, not to hammer their employees.
I had an opportunity recently to chat with some HR heads from big employers –retailers and restaurants—that employee many part timers as well as full timers. I asked them for their take on the controversy. Unsurprisingly they provided a pragmatic, non-political view of the situation.
Here are the main takeaways:
- Prior to the ACA, each company had its own definition of full and part time. As a rule they knew who they intended to pay benefits to and who not
- The ACA is causing them to track hours of part-timers closely, with the goal of not inadvertently having to pay benefits to someone they don’t consider full time
- The result is that work hours are being spread around more evenly among part-time workers whereas in the past some part-time workers got a lot of hours while others had fewer
- From the standpoint of corporate HR, this is a good result, because part-timers who are assigned more consistent hours are more likely to stay. This increase in retention is good for productivity and profits. In this case the ACA is reinforcing an HR best practice that companies have started to implement in any case
- Companies have not been trying to take away benefits from those who had them prior to ACA implementation
It’s arguable that the losers here are the few part-time employees who used to get lots of hours because their managers preferred them. Some of those are likely to make the jump to full time. Others may seek opportunities elsewhere.
These discussions are about the short term. Longer term it’s possible that employers will take the ACA into account when designing the structure of their workforce. Still, it’s just one factor among many.