Student employees adjust to Affordable Care Act


Karen Swan Peterson glanced at the clock in the corner of her computer screen notifying her that it was 3:45 p.m. on a Friday. She gathered her belongings, exited the office and punched her BYU ID into the small screen mounted on the wall to clock out.

She sighed at the weekly total of 38 hours reflected back at her — last summer, that number would have been at least 40. The two-hour weekly difference equates to a lot of groceries for her husband and herself.

The Affordable Care Act has been a source of controversy since it was signed into law on March 29, 2010. The Employer Shared Responsibility provision, which requires employers to provide healthcare benefits to full-time employees, is a much-debated facet of the law.

Though health care reform’s effect on national employment is yet to be seen, one thing is certain: it means repercussions for BYU student-employees, of which there are about 14,000.

Notice 2012-58 was issued in October 2012 defining full-time employees as those that work an average of 30 or more hours per week. Consequently, Brigham Young University has updated its student employment policy — which has never offered benefits to part-time employees — to prevent student employees from reaching that average. The new policy strictly enforces a 28-hour per week average.

The BYU student employment policy continues to allow students to work up to 20 hours per week during fall and winter semesters and 40 hours per week in the spring and summer, with overtime permitted on a pre-approved basis. Now, overtime approval is no longer based merely on budget and necessity, but also on whether the additional hours will put a student at risk of breaching the 28-hour per week average.

“Any additional hours now can mean fewer in the future,” said Wade Ashton, BYU student employment manager. “If (students) limit their hours to 20 based on that policy, then they will be able to work up to 40 hours during the summer.”

While the policy change means minor adjustments for most student employees, it poses a challenge for graduate students that work for BYU. Karen Swan Peterson, who is working on a master’s degree in linguistics, is one of many graduate students who is allowed to work up to 30 hours during fall and winter, making 40-hour work weeks in the summer impossible when complying with the 28-hour average.

Karen Swan Peterson manages schedules and assists program administrators at BYU Conferences & Workshops. [Photo taken by Chris Bunker]
Karen Swan Peterson is just one of many BYU students who will be affected by new Affordable Health Care provisions. [Photo taken by Chris Bunker]
“Paying for … insurance, auto loans, tuition and everything else is much more difficult because I already have such a high average that I have to cut my hours back during the summer,” Peterson said. “If I keep working 40 hours, I can’t work during the fall, and if I hit a certain amount of time then they actually have to fire me.”

Samantha Gilbert, a senior from Lexington, S.C., returned this summer for her second year as an EFY counselor and noticed a few differences in the experience as a result of the new provision.

“This year, they’ve had to cut back a lot on what counselors have to do. As counselors … we have to find time throughout the week away from the kids to just regroup,” she said. “It has its benefits, but I’ve seen it be more difficult for administration. They have to coordinate over 800 youth to make sure there’s always someone looking out for them when counselors can only work 40 hours per week.”

The new policy applies to all organizations owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, according to Ashton. This can pose complications for student employees seeking additional employment or internships with other LDS Church-owned entities. A BYU student employee interning at Deseret News would not be allowed to exceed the 28-hour average between the two jobs, and may not be permitted to hold both jobs at once.

This can be especially challenging since Utah is the hub of many of these organizations, including Deseret Book, Deseret News, Deseret Digital Media, Bonneville International, Beneficial Life Insurance Company, Temple Square Hospitality and Utah Property Management Associates.

Although the new provision to the Affordable Care Act has created obstacles, its effects are not all bad.

“We’ve got this certain body of work that we need to accomplish,” Ashton said. “How do we do that with the current number of students we have? The answer is to … consider hiring more students. … It’s created more opportunities for more students … which is great for those students who have not necessarily had as many opportunities before.”

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