We have seasonal and temporary employees. When do we have to offer benefits to these employees?

Generally, an employee who is hired to work 30 or more hours per week is considered full-time and therefore must be offered coverage under the employer mandate. This would also include even a temporary, contract or short-term employee if they are working or are expected to work 30 hours or more per week.

If an employee’s hours vary above and below 30 hours per week and there is no reasonable expectation that they will always work full-time hours, then they could be placed in a look-back measurement period. But again, if an employee is reasonably expected to work full-time hours (based on determinative factors such as comparable full-time positions, how it was advertised in a job description and so on), they should not be placed in a look-back measurement period and instead should be offered coverage after completing the normal new hire waiting period.

Further, the rules expressly state that an employer may not consider that employment will end during the initial measurement period, even if the employee has a short-duration employment contract. For example, if an employee is hired to work 30 hours per week but is expected to be laid off at some point, the employee could not be treated as part-time.

However, the employer mandate allows for a limited non-assessment period, which basically means that the employer would not be penalized if coverage is not offered to a full-time employee for the first three months, as long as that employee is offered coverage by the first day of the fourth month following hire. In other words, the employer has about a three month break to offer coverage after a full-time employee is hired.

So, if an employee works less than three months, the employer would not have to offer those employees coverage (even if that employee is a full-time employee—working 30 hours per week). Beyond that third month, though, the employer would need to offer coverage to that employee. For example, if any temp employees who work 30 or more hours are employed for five months, the employer would need to offer coverage for that fourth and fifth month in order to avoid a penalty. So, if any temporary employees would be employed for more than a few months, they would need to be offered coverage by the first day of the fourth month following hire, and could not be placed in a look-back measurement period.

Keep in mind, though, that the client would still need to consider their plan document terms. Specifically, if the plan document indicates that employees are generally eligible for coverage immediately or first of the month following 30 or 60 days, then the employer should make all full-time employees eligible on that timeline (including temporary employees). So if an employer would like to take advantage of the full limited non-assessment period for certain classes of employees, they will need to ensure that their plan document reflects that. In other words, while there may not be a problem with waiting to offer coverage under the employer mandate, the employer still needs to administer the plan according to their plan terms.

Now, a “seasonal employee” under the employer mandate is specifically one whose customary annual employment does not exceed six months and whose work begins at approximately the same time each year. If the employees are not, in fact, seasonal for this purpose, the only way they could be placed in a look-back measurement period is if they were hired as working variable hours (as opposed to working 30 or more hours per week).

So, an employer would need to determine if their seasonal employees actually meet the definition of seasonal under the employer mandate. Otherwise, if they will be working 30 hours or more per week just for a short duration, they’re probably not actually variable hour employees, and they’re likely not seasonal employees either. As such, the employer would be at risk of an employer mandate penalty if they fail to offer full-time employees affordable, minimum value coverage by the first day of the fourth month.

If they are, indeed, seasonal employees (as defined under the rules), or if they leave employment before the limited non-assessment period is up and are not eligible, a 1095-C would not need to be generated for such employees. But, again, an employer would need to make sure these “temp” or “seasonal” employees are actually considered variable hour employees, and not full-time eligible employees.