He added that while he agrees there should be some sort of plan for those who do not have access to health care coverage, he hopes the Obama administration takes the extra time to clarify the policies, "so employers have an opportunity to fully budget it, absorb it and prepare for it."
Mike Casey, who handles risk management and human resources for Harris Farms in Coalinga, has spent the past year researching how Obamacare will impact the company. He also pointed to the definitions of seasonal or part-time employees as a key factor.
"Right now, we're looking at potentially 200 additional employees that may be eligible for some form of health care with the new rules," Casey said. "We are still kind of in flux. We have not made any decisions and probably won't until the end of the month."
Casey said Harris Farms offers "rich" health care benefits for its full-time employees, but extending those to additional employees would mean "something has to give."
"With all of the extra coverage mandates, extra fees, charges and tax implications that are associated with Obamacare, all of that adds up to a lot of money that has to come out of something and unfortunately, it's ultimately going to come out of people's benefits," Casey said. "We have all of Obamacare to worry about, union contracts to worry about, and yet, we must still try and provide some form of benefit that is attractive to get people to want to work for us."
Under the law, part-time and seasonal workers—those who work 30 or fewer hours per week or fewer than 120 days in a year, are not counted toward the 50-employee threshold.
Employers with variable-hour or seasonal employees who work more than 120 days will be allowed to use a "measurement period" to establish the actual employment pattern of that employee. That is important because an employer is not required to offer insurance to workers who do not work full time during that "measurement period," which can be as short as three months or as long as 12 months.
Casey said he knows firsthand how overwhelming sorting through the ACA can be for a business, and suggested that growers and businesses that are affected "find a good insurance broker and a good health care consultant who doesn't have any skin in the game."
Small employers—with fewer than 50 full-time-equivalent employees—are generally exempt from penalties related to not providing health insurance.
The Treasury Department was expected to publish sometime this week formal guidance describing the delay in the employer mandate.
Agricultural employers seeking help in understanding the health care mandates may contact FELS at 800-753-9073 or firstname.lastname@example.org.