Determining Full-Time Employees under the Affordable Care Act

Posted in: Employee Benefits

Benefit Minute is a monthly newsletter written and distributed by PSA’s Director of Employee Benefits Compliance, Tina Bull.  In addition to managing and overseeing all activities of the Compliance Services Department, Tina advises and assists PSA clients with respect to health and welfare plan design, administration and communication, concentrating on current benefit laws and regulations. The following Benefit Minute is aimed toward Human Resource professionals and focuses on the Affordable Care Act and the employer shared responsibility requirement, which will be effective January 1, 2014.

PSA Benefit Minute
Determining Full-Time Employees under the Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees to offer affordable, valuable minimal essential coverage to all full-time employees or pay a penalty. This requirement is referred to as the employer shared responsibility requirement and is effective January 1, 2014.

ACA defines a full-time employee as one who has an average of at least 30 hours of service per week. Proposed regulations are expected to provide that 130 hours of service in a calendar month will be treated as the monthly equivalent of 30 hours of service per week.

The IRS has issued Notice 2012-58 to describe safe harbor methods an employer may use to determine if current employees and new “variable hour” employees must be treated as full-time employees for purposes of the shared responsibility requirement. An employee may be considered a “variable hour” employee if, based on facts and circumstances, it cannot be determined that the employee is reasonably expected to work on average at least 30 hours per week.

Ongoing Employees

For an ongoing employee (i.e. an employee who has been employed at least one standard measurement period as described below), full-time status may be determined under the safe harbor by calculating the employee’s actual average weekly hours of service during a specified look back period. This specified period is referred to as the standard measurement period and is a defined length of time between three and 12 consecutive calendar months.

If the employee averaged 30 or more hours of service per week during the standard measurement period, then health coverage must be offered to that employee during a subsequent stability period (of at least six months and no shorter than the standard measurement period). This coverage is provided to the employee for the entire stability period without regard to the number of hours of service the employee has during the stability period. However, another measurement period will commence for purposes of determining whether health coverage must be offered during the next stability period.

Between the measurement period and the stability period, an employer may use an administrative period of up to 90 days to notify and enroll eligible employees.

Employers will likely establish a standard measurement period immediately preceding annual open enrollment, an administrative period that coincides with open enrollment, and a stability period that matches the plan year. This means that the first standard measurement period may start as early as October 2012.

New Employees

For new variable hour and seasonal employees, the safe harbor method is similar. However, the initial measurement period and the administrative period combined cannot extend beyond the last day of the thirteenth full calendar month of employment. The initial stability period must be the same length as the stability period for ongoing employees.

In addition, certain hours of service during the initial measurement period will also be counted toward the next standard measurement period that begins after the new employee’s date of hire. A variable hour employee who is determined to be full-time during the initial measurement period must be offered coverage during the full initial stability period, regardless of the average number of hours of service during the first standard measurement period.

If a new employee is reasonably expected to work full-time at the date of hire, then the safe harbor method for variable hour and seasonal employees does not apply. The employee must be initially classified as full-time and coverage must be offered to the employee at or before the conclusion of the employee’s initial three calendar months of employment.

Reliance and Comments

Employers may rely on the safe harbors for measurement periods that begin through 2014 and related stability periods that may extend into 2016. The IRS has asked for comments on the following: other safe harbors for categories of employees that present special issues, other guidance that may be needed to determine full-time status, measurement/stability period issues during a merger or acquisition and how seasonal worker should be defined.

While the safe harbor methods are optional and may be administratively challenging for employers, use of them will provide certainty that an employer will not be subject to the ACA penalty for failing to offer coverage to all or substantially all full-time employees.

©PSA Insurance and Financial Services. Group insurance products offered through PSA Financial, Inc. The Benefit Minute provides general information for your reference. Please see your benefits consultant to review your specific situation.

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