On February 4 the House Ways and Means Committee approved two bills that address the definition of “full-time employee” under the Affordable Care Act.  Under the healthcare law’s employer responsibility requirements – commonly known as the “pay-or-play” provisions – an employer with 50 or more full-time or full-time equivalent employees will be required to provide health insurance that meets certain ACA standards to  their full-time employees starting in 2015, or pay a penalty.  The ACA considers a worker “full time” if he or she works 30 hours or more per week, as opposed to the customary 40 hours used in other employment statutes and regulations.

Members of both the business and labor communities have criticized this definition, claiming that it will lead many businesses to reduce part-time hours to below 30 and/or prevent part-time employees from taking additional shifts to keep employees from becoming “full time” under the ACA. 

The first bill the House Committee addressed, the Save American Workers Act (H.R. 2575), would specifically define “full-time employee” as an employee, “with respect to any month . . .  who is employed on average at least 40 hours of service per week.’’  A companion bill, the Forty Hours is Full Time Act of 2013, was introduced in the Senate last year, but has not yet advanced in that chamber.  The Committee action came the same day that the Congressional Budget Office released its report on the impact of the ACA on the labor market.

The second bill, the Protecting Volunteer Firefights and Emergency Responders Act (H.R. 3970), would exempt volunteer emergency services workers from the ACA’s definition. 

Both measures are ready for a full House vote, and are expected to pass if brought to the floor. Their fate in the Senate is less certain.

More information on the committee markup session can be found here.