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Gainesville plans to limit workers hours to comply with health care law
France Meadows Aquatic and Community Center lifeguard Brittany Fugate, 15, keeps watch Friday afternoon over swimmers during their workouts.

Gainesville has begun limiting the number of hours part-time employees can work as a result of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate.

The mandate, which imposes penalties on employers if full-time workers are not provided health care coverage, is set to take effect in January 2015 after being delayed one year.

The city’s policy restricts 136 current part-time employees from working more than 30 hours per week. The ACA calls for a $2,000 annual fine per employee if insurance is not offered to eligible workers, setting the full-time threshold at 30 hours or more per week.

“... It is not cost effective to continue to work these hours, therefore we have had to lessen the hours of those employees,” City Manager Kip Padgett said in an email to The Times. “If we do not, then we will have to provide them insurance or face penalties. This could result in a tremendous impact on our budget.”

Providing health insurance costs the city between $6,400 for a single employee and up to $16,600 for family coverage.

“It can get very expensive for government,” said Human Resources Director Janeann Allison.

The new policy was first implemented in the Gainesville Parks and Recreation Department last summer, where most of the city’s part-time workers are employed, but has now become more pressing as a result of the employer mandate’s “look-back” period. City officials are concerned that if they don’t institute the policy across all departments this year, then they could be on the hook for health care coverage at the start of 2015.

Michael Graham, deputy director of parks and recreation, said most of his staff is made up of part-time workers. They are primarily college and high school students working as lifeguards, day camp counselors, facility attendants and in administrative support.

The new policy will undoubtedly result in additional hiring across the department, as the workload remains the same.

“You still have to provide the same (level of) service,” Allison said. “Departments have to adjust to that time loss ... “

For example, Graham said he would likely hire twice as many day camp counselors this summer to fill the void in hours left by the new policy.

“It used to be that we had flexibility in those hours,” he said, adding that the amount of hours worked by part-time employees often varied from week to week based on need. “That’s one of the things that has affected us most.”

Cynthia Wagner, a 23-year-old student at the University of North Georgia, said she has felt the impact of the reduction in hours for part-time workers.

She used to put in up to 40 hours a week as a day camp counselor, but is now restricted to no more than 29 in her new position as fitness center attendant and manager at the Frances Meadows Aquatic and Community Center.

Wagner said she has had to pick up extra hours at a second job substitute teaching to make ends meet.

Hall County government will begin implementing its own policy limiting the hours of part-time workers beginning March 1. Administrative and receptionist positions in the elections, tax commissioner’s, and parks and leisure departments are among the jobs impacted.

County officials said the cost of providing health insurance for an additional 300 part-time workers could run into the millions of dollars — money they say they don’t have available to spend.

But the move to limit part-time employee hours across the city and county doesn’t sit well with worker advocacy groups.

“Cutting back their hours ... is cruel,” said DeLane Adams, communications director for the Georgia AFL-CIO. “(Government) needs to be trying to work on resolving the issue and getting (workers) the benefits that they truly deserve. I think this is a policy that’s going to hurt working families.”