The intensity of the debate around implementation of the Patient Protectionand Affordable Care Act in the restaurant industry spilled over into Nation’s Restaurant News’ own informal polling.
The NRN.com’s front-page poll, posted at the end of June, asks the question: “How many hours should an employee work to be considered full-time?” And volume of respondents in the informal survey reached new highs.
As of noon Eastern time Thursday, the results were trending strongly toward 40 hours a week, which got 181 votes, or 56 percent. The other two categories trailed by far: 35 hours received 85 votes, or 26 percent, and 30 hours garnered 59 votes, or 18 percent. The poll will remain open for additional votes.
The number of hours employees must work to qualify as full-time under the Act has been at issue in states like California and across the nation.
The Obama administration announced earlier this month that it would delay the PPACA’s employer mandate for one year, a move greeted warmly by restaurant and franchises associations.
The bill originally mandated that businesses with more than 50 full-time employees must offer health care insurance to their workers by Jan. 1, 2014, or pay a penalty. The delay, the U.S. Treasury Department said this month, stemmed from widespread complaints from businesses that the law’s reporting requirements were overly complicated and would be difficult to implement by the original deadline.
Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive of the NRA, told restaurant industry representatives during an April gathering in Washington that the Affordable Care Act was “the most daunting, vexing challenge the industry has yet faced. There are 19,000 pages of regulations trying to explain the law ... and few employers understand the law and its implications.”
States have been wrestling with the health care mandate as well.
Earlier this month, the California state Assembly rejected a bill that would have penalized large employers if their workers ended up on state Medicare rolls. The California proposal aimed to close the so-called “Walmart loophole,” the notion that employers will shift to part-time workers rather than pay the health care costs for those working 30 hours or more, as will be required under the PPACA.
The California Restaurant Association, the National Retail Federation and the National Council of Chain Restaurants were among those that argued the legislation would have unfairly punished employers who planned to offer health care coverage under PPACA’s specifications.
Orlando, Fla.-based Darden Restaurants Inc. chief executive Clarence Otis was among those who visited Sacramento this year to oppose the legislation. Darden has roughly 16,000 employees in restaurants across California.
Darden, parent to the Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse chains, had tested, and after public outcry later pulled back from, plans to add workers in part-time-only positions.
The U.S. Senate is also considering legislation that would change the definition of a full-time worker as it applies to the federal health-care reform law.
The measure, called the Forty Hours is Full Time Act of 2013, would redefine a full-time employee as one who works 40 hours a week or 174 hours a month based on a 52-week year. Currently, the PPACA states that businesses with more than 50 full-time workers must provide health insurance for full-time employees who work either 30 hours per week or 130 hours per month.
Industry association leaders, including those from the NRA and the International Franchise Association supported the Senate measure
Correction: July 19, 2013 An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized the Darden test program.