By Boniface Womber and Bonnie Jean Feldkamp December 18, 2020
This article is from Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism. Please join their free mailing list, as this helps provide more public service reporting.
Amid a raging pandemic, Ohio’s agency responsible for looking out for workers’ welfare has started posting full-time temporary jobs with no benefits for its own workforce.
For example, this week the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) sought to hire an “electronic design specialist,” a job that requires a bachelor’s degree, years of experience, or some combination of both. The hours listed are full time, with a schedule that is “not negotiable” and the position is “not eligible” for benefits.
As total COVID-19 cases in the state soared to nearly 600,000 and deaths rose to almost 8,000, Eye on Ohio asked why the positions are listed without medical benefits when large employers have to give most of their workforce— even temporary workers— medical insurance eventually under the Affordable Care Act, or pay a penalty.
A spokesman for ODJFS said “Benefit eligibility under the ACA for temporary or part-time positions is determined based on the length of time employed and hours worked during that period of time.”
Eye on Ohio further inquired if the positions have a set end date and why officials listed positions with no health care as the chances of getting a debilitating disease have risen. Officials did not respond to multiple requests to comment.
Each job posting begins with, “The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ mission is to improve the well-being of Ohio’s workforce and families by promoting economic self-sufficiency and ensuring the safety of Ohio’s most vulnerable citizens.”
But it’s not clear if ODJFS’ own workers could be self-sufficient with its own positions: according to Heatlhcare.gov, a monthly premium for a nonsmoking family of four in Columbus is approximately $810. That’s about 24% of what an ODJFS electronic design would make after taxes. And doesn’t include money for a deductible, or other costs associated with getting sick.
Other temporary jobs don’t require a degree or much experience but make much less, such as a temporary customer service representative, who would have to shell out 30% of their post-tax income just for premiums for a similar family. Benefits the Law Requires
When it comes to employee benefits, Lyndsey Barnett, chair of Graydon Law’s Employee Benefits’ Department, said technically “there is no law that any employer provides any employee any benefit regardless of the number of hours that they work.”
The Affordable Care Act does however place a penalty on what’s called Applicable Large Employers (ALE) if they do not offer “minimum essential coverage” after a specified waiting period. According to IRS.gov, “applicable large employers have annual reporting responsibilities concerning whether and what health insurance they offered to their full-time employees (and their dependents).” Determining which employees are considered “full-time equivalent” isn’t always as simple as knowing who’s on the payroll for more than 30 hours per week. Also the ALEs are permitted a 90-day waiting period before employees are eligible for benefits so if a temporary position only lasts three months the employee may never qualify for benefits.
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