40 Hours is Full Time

Effective health care reform should provide Americans with access to quality and affordable care while also encouraging economic growth. Unfortunately, flaws in the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” are discouraging employers from hiring and are resulting in part-time workers having their hours reduced and thus their paychecks cut.

The problem is that Obamacare defines a “full-time” employee as one who works just 30 hours a week. To protect workers, I have reintroduced the bipartisan “Forty Hours is Full Time Act,” along with Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN), to define “full time” work as the standard 40 hours per week. This common-sense legislation is consistent with the standard for overtime eligibility under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the usual understanding of “full-time” work.

Our bill would help ensure that millions of American workers do not have their hours, and their paychecks, reduced. The employees affected by this rule aren’t limited to any one sector. School employees, restaurant staff, seasonal employees, home care nurses, municipal workers, and many more, are all in danger of seeing their hours and paychecks cut.

Among those at risk, I am concerned that educators, school employees, and students will be particularly hard hit. As the ASAA – “The School Superintendents Association” – explained in its letter in support of our bill, Obamacare’s 30-hour threshold puts an “undue burden on school systems across the nation, many of [which] will struggle to staff their schools to meet their educational mission” while complying with this requirement.

For example, the school superintendent in Bangor has told me that Obamacare will require the school district to reduce the hours of substitute teaches to make sure they don’t exceed 29 hours a week. This will harm not only the substitute teachers who want and need more work, but it will also harm students by causing a revolving door of substitutes. And with more than 100 school districts nationwide reportedly already having cut their workers’ hours to 29 hours-a-week or fewer, this trend isn’t just limited to Maine.

During a news conference in Washington, Tom Snyder, President of Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, told us about the unintended consequences of this law.  In an effort to keep tuition affordable, his school employs more than 4,000 adjunct faculty members this semester alone.  They are a valuable resource and bring real-life experiences into the classroom.  But because the law requires them to also count the time these teachers spend preparing for class, they are now limiting their adjunct professors to teaching just nine hours a week.  If they don’t limit the hours, the school faces an overall health care bill of more than ten million dollars, which it cannot afford.

I’ve also heard from a central Maine municipality that this provision has crippled their ability to manage their employees’ schedules and has resulted in the town laying off employees for a period of time. Generally, because the town’s seasonal employees work more than 40 hours per week during the summer months, the town has kept these employees on part-time during the winter in different departments. However, because this would bring the employees over an average of 30 hours per week for the year, and thus require the town to offer them coverage, the town lays the employees off and then is required to pay them unemployment during the layoff period. This creates instability and uncertainty for both the town and its employees as well as lower pay for the employees.

The 30-hour threshold will also harm delivery of home care services. As Lisa Harvey-McPherson, a registered nurse and board member of the Home Care and Hospice Alliance of Maine, explained during a news conference in Washington, the requirement will likely result in reduced access to needed services for some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens: home-bound seniors, individuals with disabilities, and recently discharged hospital and nursing home patients. As Lisa explained, many of the Home Care and Hospice Alliance member organizations will be forced to reduce work hours for employees or even to cease operations due to the definition of “full time” work.  If that happens, hundreds of home care workers could lose their jobs, and a thousand seniors and disabled people could lose access to home care services – and that’s just in Maine alone.

The onerous penalties under Obamacare are a powerful incentive for employers to refrain from hiring additional workers and will force some businesses to reluctantly reduce the hours of their workers. Under this troubling trend, more workers will find their hours and their earnings reduced or their jobs lost. 

Regardless of varying views on the Affordable Care Act, surely there is one thing we ought to be able to agree on: to fix this problem in the law that is hurting workers’ paychecks and creating chaos for our nation’s job creators.