where academia meets practice in business education

The Republican Party is now firmly in control of both houses of the United States Congress. So how will life change for all of us?

One result is that the Grand Old Party can now set the agenda of all Senate Committee meetings and other formal activities. So the American people won’t simply hear a few broadly described “talking points” any longer. Instead, they’ll hear each and every detailed talking point, down to the smallest detail.

Consider, for instance, the Affordable Care Act. For many years, Republicans like Senator Ted Cruz have told Americans that “Obamacare is causing millions to lose their jobs, be forced into part-time work, lose their doctors and health insurance, and pay skyrocketing premiums.”

Those were fairly broad assertions, weren’t they? Now, though, Americans are hearing that the ACA is destroying the traditional 40 hour work week as well.

Whoa! Does the health care law literally vanquish the 40 hour work week? Well, in a sense, it does indeed obviate the 40 hour standard. In fact, it defines a full-time employment schedule as one that only requires a minimum of 30 hours of work.

A 30 hour definition sounds quite low, doesn’t it? After all, even employees who only work seven hours per weekday manage to “clock in” for 35 hours a week. So why does the ACA set the proverbial bar at such a meager level?

Oddly enough, the law explicitly establishes a minimum work week of 30 hours because of a desire by lawmakers to protect a traditional 40 hour work week. But why does it need to do that? Why not simply define a work week at 40 hours, instead of establishing a minimum that understates that amount by 25%?

Well, the ACA requires most employers to provide health insurance to all full time employees. But if the law had defined a full time employee as an individual who works a minimum of 40 hours per week, employers could easily instruct their workers to be 2.5% more efficient with their time by completing their responsibilities in 39 hours.

That way, their employees would work a 39 hour work week, but would not be classified as full time employees under a 40 hour standard. As a result, the employers could deny health insurance to their workers.

But because the ACA defines full time work as 30 (or more) hours, i.e. well below the 40 hours that most full time employees actually work, employers would need to instruct their workers to be 27.5% more efficient with their time (and thus to complete their responsibilities in 29 hours) in order to avoid the full time classification and to withhold insurance coverage.

Although employers can easily squeeze their employees to work 2.5% more efficiently, it’s much more difficult to require them to work 27.5% more efficiently. Indeed, at most organizations, it would be impossible to require employees to complete a full time set of responsibilities within 29 hours.

Nevertheless, that’s not what Republican Congressman Paul Ryan believes. He asserts that the ACA has created an entire class of workers called “the 29ers” who are actually being limited to 29 hours of work per week. Nevertheless, he hasn’t offered much evidence of that assertion.

Whether or not such evidence exists, though, it is apparent that Republicans have moved far beyond any broad characterizations of the health law. They’re now utilizing the platform of Senate leadership to dig deeply into such details as hourly work week definitions, and they’re not likely to let up any time soon.

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