ACA definition of full time work: Twilight of the Industrial Age work week?
In 1938, the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) set the full time work week at 40 hours. The 40-hour work week became a hallmark of the modern Industrial Age. Over the decades since then and especially since 1985, our socio-economy has shifted toward the next phase: a more automated and sedentary Information Age economy.
In this new economy, people move around a lot less. Consequently, many health experts agree, the health of the population has worsened, expanding waistlines and health care costs to treat complex and chronic conditions that are largely preventable with more activity and exercise. As a society, we are negotiating the transition from the Industrial to the Information Age with a large degree of difficulty as shown by the deteriorating overall health status of the population.
It is therefore interesting to note the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) at Section 4980H(c)(4) reduces the 40-hour work week standard to 30 hours for the purpose of defining a full time worker under ACA’s large employer “shared responsibility” mandate requiring large employers to provide employer-sponsored health coverage. While the policy intent is likely to get large employers (defined as having 51 or more workers) to cover a greater portion of their work forces and thus expand health coverage, this little noticed provision could offer a larger, longer term benefit if it becomes a new standard work week in the emerging Information/Internet socio-economy. Especially if it is accompanied by a widespread social realization and acceptance of the notion that people would greatly benefit from one to two hours of sustained activity on most days – especially for those engaged in knowledge and information work that has them mostly seated for the balance of their waking hours.
But would the 10 fewer hours worked each week translate into lost productivity that would truly harm the economy and standard of living? Or would the 30 hours that are spent working be more productive ones such that working 10 less hours would be largely offset? And if people used the extra time for daily activity (yes, housework counts) and exercise, how much savings could be realized in bending the infamous health care utilization cost curve and would they outweigh any cost associated with working a shorter work week? This is an enormously important question considering the high cost of poor health to the U.S. economy. Finally, for knowledge workers is measuring the hours worked even the right metric to gauge their productivity given the view that the results are what really count?