Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, large employers must provide health insurance for employees who put in 30 or more hours per week. Colleges and universities (like other employers) have been known to reduce or undercount the number of hours part-time employees work so that they (the employers) don't have to provide such benefits. As we noted in January, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires institutions to be "reasonable" in calculating the total hours that part-time instructors devote to preparing and giving classes, marking papers, meeting with students, and carrying out other functions involved in presenting their courses. Still, without specific guidance, time spent grading papers and prepping for lectures in a home office, coffee shop, or 1997 Hyundai Elantra is easy for an institution to overlook.

IRS regulations issued 10 February suggest a method that colleges and universities can use to count those hours. One way of counting adjunct hours, the regulations state, is to add one and a quarter additional hour to each hour in the classroom, to cover preparation and marking, and then add the time spent in office hours, departmental meetings, and other "required" activities. Roughly then, under this way of counting, an adjunct who teaches 12 contact hours per week for the same employer and spends 3 hours per week in meetings and office hours should qualify for health insurance.

Although this method "may be relied upon at least through the end of 2015," the IRS says, it is not the only "reasonable" method that institutions may use. The regulations caution that "a method of crediting hours is not reasonable if it takes into account only a portion of an employee's hours of service with the effect of characterizing, as a non-full-time employee, an employee in a position that traditionally involves at least 30 hours of service per week." The IRS may also revisit the issue, the regulations add.

Generous employers can feel free to go beyond what the regulations require, the document notes. "[E]mployers may credit more hours of service than would result under the method described [above] and also may offer coverage to additional employees beyond those identified as full-time employees under that method."

Significantly, the new regulations make it clear that the 30-hour rule applies to student employees too, including teaching and research assistants, unless they are working on Federal work-study or similar programs.

Beryl Lieff Benderly writes from Washington, D.C.

10.1126/science.caredit.a1400040