Staples is limiting the number of hours part-time associates can work to 25 hours a week, a move that has drawn the ire of disgruntled workers who claim it is a way to skirt impending rules requiring companies to provide health insurance for full-time employees or face a steep penalty.
According to an early December internal memo obtained by BuzzFeed that Staples sent to its store managers, the company described the decision to curb hours for part-time associates starting with the week ended Jan. 4 as “an effort to maximize scheduling flexibility.” The retailer distributed “talking points” for discussing the change with part-time employees who regularly worked above the new limit — a brief script that that spells out three moments for the manager to “pause and check for understanding.” Staples also noted in the memo that managers might need to hire more part-time workers to compensate for the reduction in hours.
While Staples didn’t mention the Affordable Care Act, angry associates have taken to social media to point out that a major provision of the law, which takes effect next year, will count people working at least 30 hours a week as full-time employees. Companies of 50 people or more that don’t provide affordable healthcare to full-time workers will be forced to pay a penalty of up to $3,000 per person.
One anonymous Staples employee, who says she worked 30- to 35-hour weeks for nine years, started a Change.org petition last month that’s garnered more than 160,000 signatures, asking the retailer to refrain from limiting part-time shifts because she and others need the money from the extra hours. Some workers say they can’t obtain one of the few full-time positions in stores while others are balancing the hours with school or children.
A representative for Staples told BuzzFeed that the limit on hours for part-time workers is not new and has, in fact, been in effect for more than a decade.
“We have reiterated the policy as we work to increase the efficiency of our retail network,” Mark Cautela, a spokesman, said in an e-mail.
However, Cautela didn’t respond to follow-up questions about why the memo said Staples was “implementing” the rule starting this month or why it used the phrases “new guidelines” and “new part time hour policy.”
Retailers and restaurants, which employ a high number of part-time workers, vehemently opposed the Affordable Care Act’s definition of full-time employees, pushing for it to apply to those working at least 40 hours a week. The National Retail Federation warned in June that with the 30-hour definition, retail and chain restaurants “will be forced to fine tune the balance between full and part-time, focusing on employee status on a real-time basis.”
While the White House said in September that there was no evidence President Obama’s signature healthcare program was boosting the number of part-time workers, which has been elevated since the recession, much of the effect is likely to be seen this year as companies prepare for the mandate.
Whole Foods Chief Executive Officer John Mackey said last month that the 30-hour rule “creates an incentive to have fewer full-time workers and more part-time workers.” He said the grocery-chain, which was traditionally 75% full-time and 25% part-time workers, is changing that mix to 70% and 30% this year because of the new healthcare law.
“If our costs keep going up, I expect probably that percentage will continue to increase for part-timers and decrease for full-timers,” he said.
Stage Stores CEO Michael Glazer said on a conference call late last year that the chain would “possibly” add more part-timers because of the law, adding that, “I don’t think we’re any different than any other retailer from that standpoint.”
Companies have been relatively quiet on their plans for dealing with new healthcare costs, which isn’t surprising given the public backlash that’s ensued when chains like Darden tested the addition of more part-time employees at the expense of full-time workers. But a Dollar General executive acknowledged on Dec. 5 that “it’ll be a headwind” for most companies in America this year. Executives at ADP, which provides employers with payroll and “time and attendance management solutions,” noted that the Affordable Care Act is great for its business, in part because ADP is helping with “the management of part-time versus full-time employees.”
Staples, like many other corporations, has increased part-time employees and reduced full-time workers in recent years. The chain employed 50,020 full-time and 35,067 part-time employees according to its latest annual filing, versus 57,291 full-time and 33,834 part-time associates in 2009.
The author of the Change.org petition, who didn’t identify herself for fear of losing her job, believes Staples could be pressured to eliminate its new policy and give hours back to part-time workers.
Staples’ Facebook page is peppered with complaints around the 25-hour rule, which comes at an inopportune time given the chain just launched a rebranding campaign on Jan. 2. Protestors are using the hashtags associated with Staples’ new tagline and logo — #MakeMoreHappen and #WhatTheL — to call the retailer out for the cuts.