Obamacare Dilemma: Can Part-Time Workers Save You Money?

If you have 50 or more employees, part-timers could offer a money-saving solution to your health-care costs. But consider these pros and cons first.
Freelance writer/editor/producer, Various online and print publications
October 30, 2013

The Affordable Care Act, more commonly referred to as ACA or Obamacare, might be one of the biggest issues small-business owners have faced in recent years. 

Beginning in 2015, Obamacare will require any business employing more than 50 workers to provide health insurance to those employees working more than 30 hours per week. The new rule may cause some business owners near the 50-person threshold to consider the impact of hiring new staffers, whether to have some employees only work part time and how to divvy up hours. 

What should businesses consider when structuring their workforces? There's no definite answer, but below are some pros and cons of hiring part-time workers that business owners may want to consider.

Pros

Less overhead cost. Under the health-care reform act, companies with at least 50 employees are required to provide medical coverage to full-time workers, but that coverage doesn't extend to employees who work fewer than 30 hours per week. This means there will be less overhead cost for business owners who choose to employ part-timers. The good news is, it might not be bad news for part-time workers either. The ACA will enable part-timers to have access to medical benefits that rival those of full-timers.

"Moving from full-time employment to part-time employment will trigger generous assistance with health premiums and out-of-pocket expenses that can offset much of the income lost due to reduced work hours," University of Chicago economics professor Casey Mulligan says in a recent paper published in conjunction with the National Bureau of Economic Research. That's because, under the ACA, the cost of insurance will be subsidized depending on your income.

Ability to attract desirable workforce. Obamacare may also reduce "job lock," the situation that occurs when workers are afraid to quit their jobs or reduce their hours for fear of losing medical coverage, according to a recent article by Annie Lowrey and John Harwood in The New York Times. It's possible, then, that employees who are working for you part time after the ACA kicks in aren't doing so because they feel "locked" into working for your company.

If you change the structure of your company to cater to more part-timers, you may attract talent you eliminated by hiring only full-time employees. For example, many new mothers want to go back to work, but they don't want to go back full time or have to pay too much for a nanny or day-care service. Part-time work may also attract retirees who have a wealth of knowledge and would be great mentors to younger staff members.

Cons

Inconsistent productivity. Because your part-time workers won't be on site as often as your full-time staff, it might take them longer to get used to your company's culture or become familiar with the programs used regularly. This may increase their training time or reduce productivity while they're getting up to speed.

"Part-time workers, especially those that work more temporarily or seasonally, usually have less knowledge and familiarity with the company because they work less," Neil Kokemuller writes in a post published on Small Business Chronicle. "Customer-driven organizations may notice less successful sales and service with part-time employees that do not become as familiar with approaches to selling and servicing the needs of the company's customers. Training can help offset these issues, but part-timers take longer to gain experience than full-time workers."

Lack of loyalty. Can you really expect loyalty from someone who may be juggling multiple jobs? Since part-time employees spend less time interacting with others in the company, they may find it easier to leave, which, in turn, could create a turnover problem for businesses who hire a lot of part-time help.

"Full-time workers that rely on the consistent income and benefits typically buy in to the organization more strongly and feel a deeper attachment," Kokemuller says. "Part-time workers usually have less commitment because they spend less time at the company and find it easier to leave because of the lack of full-time income and benefits.Thus, losing part-timers to other jobs is more common."

Because there are both pros and cons to hiring part-time employees, you should carefully evaluate what it is that your company needs most before deciding to bring on more part-time help. Part-timers may help offset your health insurance costs, but they may also not be able to offer the loyalty and time commitment you need from your talent. Be sure to review your options before making any hiring decisions.

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