Tuesday, February 17, 2015

New IRS Guidance on Wide Range of Issues Related to PPACA Employer Mandate

Below is an excerpt from Proskauer's summary of the latest IRS release on Pay-or-Play guidance.  Pay close attention to the fine line drawn between short term employees and seasonal employees.  The 6-month limitation so many employers found encouraging only applies to truly seasonal employees.  Employees that are merely short term, but not necessarily seasonal must be offered benefits within 90 days if they are working more than 30 hours per week.

This is from  Peter Marathas and Damian A. Myers writing in Proskauer's ERISA Practice Center:
As previously reported, on February 10, 2014, the IRS issued final regulations on the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) employer shared responsibility requirements—the so-called “pay-or-play” mandate. In the regulations, the IRS provides new and additional guidance on a wide range of issues relating to the implementation of the pay-or-play rules. Among them, the IRS has restated its position and introduced some new rules relating to the engagement by employers of “contingent workers,” including temporary employees, individuals hired through temporary staffing firms and independent contractors (“1099 employees”). Not surprisingly, in its proposed regulations released about a year ago, the IRS had flagged contingent workers as presenting challenging issues for compliance with the pay-or-play requirements. 
Key provisions of the final regulations’ rules for contingent workers are summarized below. 
  • Definition of Employee. In the final regulations the IRS reaffirms its position that it will use a common law definition of employee to determine employer-employee status. Generally, an individual is the common law employee of an entity if that entity has the right to control the individual’s performance of services. ...
  • Common Law Employees of the Client Employer. For purposes of the pay-or-play mandate, when the client is the common law employer, an offer of coverage made by the temporary staffing firm “on behalf of” the client employer will be considered to be an offer of coverage by the client employer. In order for an offer of coverage to be “on behalf of” the client employer, the client employer must pay a higher fee to the temporary staffing firm for those employees who enroll in the temporary staffing firm’s plan. In other words, if the contract provides for a flat fee per employee placement irrespective of whether the employee enrolls in the staffing company’s coverage, the employer will not be considered to have made an offer of coverage. This could lead to exposure under the pay-or-play mandate’s $2,000 per full-time employee “no coverage offered” penalty if more than 5% of its full-time employees (30% in 2015) are employed through the staffing agency.  
  • Contingent Worker Misclassification Issues. Employers are not required to offer coverage to independent contractors; however, because the final regulations use a common law definition of employee, an IRS examination finding that common law employees have been misclassified as independent contractors could result in significant penalty exposure to the employer. Employers that engage a significant number of “1099 employees” run a tremendous risk of incurring the pay-or-play mandate’s $2,000 per full-time employee “no coverage offered” penalty, even when they offer coverage to all of the employees they categorize as full-time. If the number of 1099 employees who are reclassified as common law employees exceeds 5% of the employer’s full-time workforce (30% in 2015), the “no coverage offered” penalty may be tripped. ...  
Given the lack of available relief [available in this area of PPACA], employers should carefully review their contractual arrangements with service providers to ensure that they have been properly classified as independent contractors as opposed to common law employees under the more traditional common law tests. 
  • Short-Term Employees. The final regulations confirm the IRS’s position that short-term employees (other than seasonal employees) who are reasonably expected to work full-time (30 hours or more per week) at date of hire must generally be offered coverage within 90 days. There is no blanket exemption for short-term employees—if employment extends beyond the end of the third full calendar month of employment, the employer must offer coverage regardless of the projected termination date (the offer of coverage will generally be within 90 days from date of hire due to the ACA’s waiting period rules).  
  • Employees of Temporary Staffing Firms. There are special rules for determining whether a variable hour employee is a full-time employee. Variable hour employees are employees with no set schedule or seasonal employees (generally those working 6 months or less on a seasonal basis). Under these rules, the employer (staffing company) can use a determination period of from 3 to 6 to 12 months to determine an individual’s full-time status for a following so-called “stability period” of 6 or 12 months. Because of the nature of the business—where employees may work for several client employers during a certain period of time—commenters observed that it would be difficult to determine when a staffing company employee was a variable hour employee. ... [T]he final regulations provide criteria that a staffing company may consider to determine whether a new employee is “variable hour.” This assessment is done at the time of hire based on the staffing company’s reasonable expectations. Considerations may include whether other similar employees of the staffing company: 
    • retain the right to reject assignments; 
    • have periods during which no assignments are available; 
    • are offered assignments of differing lengths; and 
    • are typically offered assignments that do not extend more than thirteen weeks. 
No one factor is dispositive. ...