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Part Time Blues

Our company employs three part-time employees who work 18 to 30 hours a week. Although we provide medical benefits to our full-time employees, we don’t give insurance benefits to our part-time employees. Several of the part-timers feel this isn’t fair, but it’s not our decision, it’s our insurance company’s. Also, although our full-time staff stays pretty constant, our part-timers come and go and we want to reward our long-term employees.

We don’t give part-timers sick leave or vacation benefits and we don’t pay them for the holidays they don’t work because they’re all hourly. However, these unfairness comments worry us -- are we legal when we give benefits only to the full-time employees?

The most consistent part-timer occasionally fills in for vacationing full-time employees and then works forty hours for those weeks. Does that make him a full-time employee for that week or month? Finally, one of the unhappy part-timers works 5 to 6 hours a day, or 25 to 30 hours a week and says we should consider her “full-time” for insurance purposes. What’s full-time mean?

Answer:

You may be legal and yet not wise.

Most employers define full-time employees as those who regularly work 35 to 40 hours weekly. These employees typically receive whatever benefits the employer provides. While some employers extend the definition downward to 32 hours, 25 to 30 hours generally labels an employee part-time.

Private sector employers not regulated by union agreements can freely decide whether to give part-time employees limited benefits or no benefits. Most employers give more benefits to full than to part-time employees.

Employers ordinarily don’t reclassify a part-time employee as full-time even when the employee temporarily works a full-time schedule, unless the full-time schedule lasts indefinitely or for an extended (several months) period.

Given the “unfair” comments, you may want to want to look at your benefit practices from a standpoint of what it costs you to save the insurance premiums and holiday, vacation and sick leave pay. Your part-timers come and go – potentially because they feel like second-class citizens. In our company, we pay part-time employees prorated sick leave, holiday and vacation benefits because we want them to feel like full members of the team. This costs us money, but provides a morale and longevity bonus.

Also, although you say your insurance company’s rules govern the benefits you provide part-time employees, you help create the rules and your insurance company simply administers them. You can let your insurance company know you want to cover part-time employees – and simply adjust the employer percentage of the premium to make your decision more cost-effective. For example, you can decide to cover 75% to 100% of the premium for full-time employees and only 50% of the premium for part-time employees.

Finally, you wisely worry about the “unfairness” comments. Employees who perceive unfairness often take out their resentment in other ways. Thus, you want to take a full look at your practices. What do they save you – and what do they cost?

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at lynne@thegrowthcompany.com

You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com

© Lynne Curry, April 2013, www.thegrowthcompany.com

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