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IRS Issues Clarification and Invites Public Comment on Adjunct Healthcare Coverage

We recently reported on the growing confusion over the treatment of adjunct faculty members under the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The law requires that large employers provide insurance for full-time employees, who are defined as those working more than 30 hours a week. Despite that seemingly simple definition, exactly who qualifies is often unclear, and on some campuses, adjuncts’ hours have been cut to prevent institutions from being responsible for their health insurance. Faculty groups have declared that such moves are “unfair and represent an over-reaction to the situation,” notes Inside Higher Ed. “(Most faculty leaders say that colleges should be paying the health insurance for these adjuncts anyway.)” (I couldn’t agree more!)

The Internal Revenue Service, meanwhile, has partially clarified the murky situation with proposed rules issued on 2 January. This document also invites members of the public to submit written comments by mail or via the Internet by 18 March and announces a public hearing on 23 April. You can be pretty sure that the major academic lobbying organizations will be weighing in on this question; it wouldn’t hurt if some of the people actually toiling as adjuncts were to do likewise. Instructions for submitting comments and obtaining further information on the commenting process, the hearing agenda, and how to attend can be found here.

We can’t claim to have perused all 144 pages of legalese the IRS issued last week, but we did read the section devoted
to airplane pilots, commission salespeople, and adjunct faculty. All of
these workers–superficially at least–may appear to spend too few
hours on the clock to qualify as full-time employees. The IRS, though,
advises educational institutions to be “reasonable” in determining
whether an adjunct works full- or part-time. “It would not be
reasonable,” the proposed rule explains, “to take into account only
classroom or other instruction time and not other hours that are
necessary to perform an employee’s duties, such as class preparation
time.” (Of course, if colleges were treating adjuncts reasonably, they
wouldn’t be chiseling them on pay and benefits in the first place–but
that’s another matter.)

Further clarification of the health coverage issue will be forthcoming, the IRS assures us.