Who Is Considered a Full-Time Employee?
As an employer, the determination of who is a full-time employee will be crucial in evaluating your options for complying with the employer shared responsibility rules, and equally important, designing your group health plan’s eligibility and participation requirements.
Because there can be various ways of assessing what constitutes a full-time employee eligible for coverage under the PPACA, the IRS has issued guidance in the form of several notices, as well as temporary regulations. These guidelines set out criteria and standards that can help employers make accurate determinations when hiring new employees, including:
*Initial measurement period – A designated period of not less than three months or more than 12 months used in determining whether a newly hired variable or seasonal employee is full-time.
*Standard measurement period – An annual designated period of not less than three months or more than 12 months used to determine whether an ongoing variable or seasonal employee is full-time.
*Administrative period – A period of up to 90 days for making full-time determinations and offering/implementing full-time employee coverage.
*Stability period – An annual designated period of not less than six months (and not less than the corresponding measurement period) during which the employer must offer affordable minimum essential health coverage to all full-time employees, or face financial penalties for not doing so.
*Full-time employees – If a new employee is reasonably expected to average at least 30 hours per week at the time of hire, the employee must automatically be treated as full-time and offered group health coverage within three months of hire.
*Variable hour and seasonal employees – A variable hour employee is someone whom the employer cannot reasonably determine will average at least 30 hours per week at the time of hire. No definition is provided for a seasonal employee, but presumably it would include anyone who works on a seasonal basis. Employers may use the initial measurement period to determine whether a newly hired variable or seasonal employee actually averages at least 30 hours per week, and the standard measurement period to determine whether an ongoing variable or seasonable employee actually averages at least 30 hours per week. If the employee does average at least 30 hours per week during the initial measurement period or standard measurement period, the employer must offer affordable minimum essential health coverage during the stability period, or face financial penalties for not doing so.
*Transition from new to ongoing employee status – Once a new employee has completed an initial measurement period and has been employed for a full standard measurement period, the employee must be tested for full-time status under the ongoing employee rules for that standard measurement period, regardless of whether the employee was full-time during the initial measurement period.
L. Scott Austin is a partner with Hunton & Williams in Atlanta, and David Mustone is a partner with Hunton & Williams in McLean, Va. Both specialize in employee benefits, executive compensation and ERISA issues, and lead Hunton & Williams’ health care reform initiative.
By L. Scott Austin and David Mustone