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Student Workers and the ACA’s Employer Mandate

iStock_000011272712-300x200As the date draws near for the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate to take effect (requiring employers with 50 or more employees to offer healthcare coverage to all employees working 30 or more hours per week), questions and uncertainty still abound — especially for higher ed, where the definition of “full-time employee” isn’t as clear cut as it is in many sectors.

Since the employer mandate was announced, CUPA-HR has been seeking clarification and guidance on several of the questions surrounding it as they relate to the unique environment of higher ed – How should student workers and adjunct hours be calculated? What constitutes student employment? Are student workers exempt from the mandate?

And though the IRS has issued some guidance related to student employees and adjuncts in response to our requests, there is still much to be sorted out.

In a recent webinar presented by the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I), CUPA-HR Chief Government Relations Officer Josh Ulman and Brandon Long, an employee benefits attorney, drilled down into the specifics for student workers. Following the webinar, they sat for a Q&A with ACUHO-I’s Talking Stick magazine.

Here are some highlights of that Q&A:

There are two ways an institution can determine if a student worker is considered a full-time employee – by counting the employee’s actual hours for each month (a tedious, time-consuming task, no doubt) or by using a so-called “look-back” period wherein the employer looks back over a certain period of time to determine the average number of hours worked during that period.

If a college or university determines that a student is a full-time employee, it must offer the student healthcare coverage under the same plan that it provides to other employees. Offering coverage under the institution’s student health plan will not suffice.

Tracking hours for resident assistants (RAs) is a complex task. You must take into consideration on-call hours, free room and board as compensation, certain times of the year (i.e., move-in and move-out days) when RAs will likely work more hours than usual, and a host of other factors.

Document, document, document! The best approach for managing student employee hours and ensuring compliance with the employer mandate is documentation, and lots of it.

We’re hopeful that the IRS will issue more guidance around student workers in the coming months, but until then, following the guidelines Ulman and Long offer in the webinar and Q&A, and continuing to consult with legal counsel, can help ensure compliance with the employer mandate as it relates to student employees.

For more ACA-related news and resources, visit CUPA-HR’s Advocacy and Compliance web page, check out the ACA toolkit in the Knowledge Center, and join the discussions taking place in CUPA-HR’s online member community.

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