Fix My Job: Benefits

Do you ever get that “so close and yet so far” feeling when it comes to employee benefits? Sure, your employer may offer vacation, 401(k), and health benefits to full-timers…but they define “full time” as 30 hours a week, and you never seem to be able to get more than 29!

It’s a common situation. Some employers advertise benefits for workers who get more than a certain number of hours, but then apparently instruct managers to limit hours for many employees.

Non-cash compensation, such as health insurance and retirement pay, can be very costly, and employers are always looking for ways to cut costs. That’s why you might be coming up just short. Your employer gets to set how many hours you need to qualify for benefits, and they also get tell you how many hours to work.

The practice may be on the verge of becoming more common with the coming implementation of the Affordable Care Act. That law says that large employers will have to pay a penalty if they do not provide insurance to employees working 30 hours a week or more. Many employers are threatening to cap hours at 29 .

How to handle insufficient hours:

Your employer is not breaking any laws by keeping you just below the threshold necessary to receive benefits. However, you may have some recourse if:

  • They are breaking an agreement with you: When you were hired, was it understood that you would be given enough hours to qualify for insurance? Or do you have a contract with your employer that specifies that you will work a certain number of hours? If so, let your boss know that you expect that agreement to be respected. If they still won’t increase your hours, you might want to consult an attorney.
  • You used to get benefits but had your hours cut back: If so, do you feel that you had your hours reduced because of retaliation or that you are being discriminated against? If so, see what Fix My Job has to say about Discrimination  and Retaliation .
  • You are a unionized employee: If so, the contract negotiated by you and your co-workers may include language about benefits and working hours. Check with your union representative.

If none of the above apply to you, your best course of action is to check in with your co-workers. Is anyone else having this problem? If so, getting together as a group to discuss the issue with management might help convince your employer that skimping on employee benefits is not an effective way to balance the company’s budget. In most workplace situations, your boss has the upper hand – but approaching him or her as a group changes the dynamic, and will help level the playing field for you and your co-workers. Also, in most private-sector workplaces, two or more workers acting together to address a workplace problem are likely to be protected by  U.S. labor law  – but that’s not true if you complain by yourself.

Even if you’re the only one in your workplace with short hours, it’s still worth talking to your boss. Appeal to his or her sense of fair play. Be prepared to make a case about how well you’ve been performing in your job. If your boss feels you are a valued employee and does not want to lose you, he or she might be willing to increase your hours to keep you happy.



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