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This week the IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2022-34, which significantly decreases the affordability threshold for ACA employer mandate purposes to 9.12% for plan years beginning in 2023. The new 9.12% level marks by far the lowest affordability percentage to date, as well as the first time the threshold has dropped below the initial 9.5% standard set by the ACA.

The affordability percentage decrease is based on the ACA’s index inflation metric, which is the rate of premium growth for the preceding year over the rate of CPI growth for the preceding year. The affordability percentages apply for plan years beginning in the listed year. A calendar plan year will therefore have the 9.12% affordability threshold for the plan year beginning January 1, 2023.

The ACA employer mandate rules apply to employers that are “Applicable Large Employers,” or “ALEs.” In general, an employer is an ALE if it (along with any members in its controlled group) employed an average of at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, on business days during the preceding calendar year.

There are two potential ACA employer mandate penalties that can impact ALEs:

a) IRC §4980H(a)—The “A Penalty”

The first is the §4980H(a) penalty—frequently referred to as the “A Penalty” or the “Sledge Hammer Penalty.” This penalty applies where the ALE fails to offer minimum essential coverage to at least 95% of its full-time employees in any given calendar month.

The 2022 A Penalty is $229.17/month ($2,750 annualized) multiplied by all full-time employees (reduced by the first 30). It is triggered by at least one full-time employee who was not offered minimum essential coverage enrolling in subsidized coverage on the Exchange. Note: The IRS has not yet released the 2023 A Penalty increase.

The “A Penalty” liability is focused on whether the employer offered a major medical plan to a sufficient percentage of full-time employees—not whether that offer was affordable (or provided minimum value).

b) IRC §4980H(b)—The “B Penalty”

The second is the §4980H(b) penalty—frequently referred to as the “B Penalty or the “Tack Hammer Penalty.” This penalty applies where the ALE is not subject to the A Penalty (i.e., the ALE offers coverage to at least 95% of full-time employees).

The B Penalty applies for each full-time employee who was:

  1. not offered minimum essential coverage,
  2. offered unaffordable coverage, or
  3. offered coverage that did not provide minimum value.

Only those full-time employees who enroll in subsidized coverage on the Exchange will trigger the B Penalty. Unlike the A Penalty, the B Penalty is not multiplied by all full-time employees.

In other words, an ALE who offers minimum essential coverage to a full-time employee will be subject to the B Penalty if:

  1. the coverage does not provide minimum value or is not affordable (more below); and
  2. the full-time employee declines the offer of coverage and instead enrolls in subsidized coverage on the Exchange.

The 2022 B Penalty is $343.33/month ($4,120 annualized) per full-time employee receiving subsidized coverage on the Exchange.  Note: The IRS has not yet released the 2023 B Penalty increase.

Limiting Employee Hours To Avoid ACA Could Violate ERISA

March 03 - Posted at 3:00 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In a first-of-its-kind decision, a federal court recently upheld the right of employees to sue their employer for allegedly cutting employee hours to less than 30 hours per week to avoid offering health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Specifically, the District Court for the Southern District of New York denied a defense Motion to Dismiss in a case where a group of workers allege that Dave & Buster’s (a national restaurant and entertainment chain) “right-sized” its workforce for the purpose of avoiding healthcare costs.


Although this case is in the very early stages of litigation and is far from being decided, you should monitor this for developments to determine whether you need to take action to deter potential copycat lawsuits. 

Reducing Workforce Hours In Response To ACA

The ACA requires employers who employ 50 or more “full-time equivalents” to offer affordable minimum-value coverage to full-time employees and their dependents or pay a penalty if any of their full-time employees receive federal premium assistance to purchase individual coverage in the Health Insurance Marketplace. This requirement is also known as the “Employer Mandate”.  


One of the initial concerns by ACA critics is that many employers would respond to the Employer Mandate by reducing full-time employee hours to avoid the coverage obligation and associated penalties, increasing the number of part-time workers in the national economy. This is because the ACA does not require an employer to offer affordable, minimum-value coverage to employees generally working less than 30 hours per week.  


Although the initial economic data analyzing the national workforce suggests that the predictions of wide-scale reduction in employee hours have not materialized, some employers have increased their reliance on part-time employees as an ACA strategy to manage the costs of the Employer Mandate.


Could That Reduction Violate ERISA?

Although an employer who reduces employee hours would not violate any specific provision of the ACA, there is an open question as to whether such an action would violate another federal law. As alleged by employees of Dave & Buster’s, such a reduction creates a cause of action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). A group of employees filed a class action lawsuit against the restaurant chain last year making such an argument.


Section 510 of ERISA prohibits discrimination and retaliation against plan participants and beneficiaries with respect to their rights to benefits. More specifically, ERISA Section 510 prohibits employers from interfering “with the attainment of any right to which such participant may become entitled under the plan.” Because many employment decisions affect the right to present or future benefits, courts generally require that plaintiffs show specific employer intent to interfere with benefits if they want to successfully assert a cause of action under ERISA Section 510.  


Round One Goes To Employees

Dave & Buster’s moved to dismiss the class action lawsuit, arguing that the complaint failed to demonstrate that it reduced work hours with the specific intent to deny employees the right to group health insurance. However, the district court disagreed and recently denied the employer’s motion, clearing the case for further litigation.


The court found that the class of plaintiffs showed sufficient evidence in support of their claim that their participation in the health insurance plan was discontinued because the employer acted with “unlawful purpose” in realigning its workforce to avoid ACA-related costs. In this regard, the employees claimed that the company held meetings during which managers explained that the ACA would cost millions of dollars, and that employee hours were being reduced to avoid that cost.


What Should Employers Do Now?

The lawsuit against Dave & Buster’s is the first case to address whether a transition to a substantially part-time workforce in response to the Employer Mandate constitutes a violation of ERISA Section 510. The case is far from over and we do not know when it will be resolved. 


However, if you are considering reducing your employee hours, you should carefully consider how such reductions are communicated to your workforce. Employers often have varied reasons for reducing employee hours, and many of those reasons have legitimate business purposes. It is vital that any communications made to your employees about such reductions describe the underlying rationale with clarity. 

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