A reader writes:
I’ve been working in Human Resources for about four years, two of them in my current organization. I work in a small team of four – my coworker and I handle most of the day to day, as well as projects, and we also have an administrative assistant who handles the clerical functions. A director oversees us, but she has a few other departments so she is not always very involved.
The organization I work for is a nonprofit focusing on homelessness, hunger, and poverty. I feel strongly about the mission, which was a primary reason I made the move from a corporate environment to here. However, over my two years here, some decisions have been made regarding employees that I feel are unfair and inconsistent with our mission. For example, we often underpay employees, don’t give raises, and push healthcare premium increases onto them. I realize nonprofits are always short on money, and I’ve chalked most of it up to that and tried to make a difference where I could.
That said, the director shared with us recently that senior leadership has decided that the four employees who were identified through our ACA compliance process as needing to be offered health insurance, despite being coded as per diem employees (meaning they’re working full-time hours on average but are still coded as per diem and therefore were no previously offered health insurance through us) will not be moved to full-time status because this way we will only need to offer them health insurance but not PTO, dental insurance, life insurance, etc. Essentially, they want to keep them incorrectly coded to skirt around having to offer them the benefits our other full-time employees receive. For reference, we already have about 200 staff who are full-time, so this wouldn’t be a significant increase. My director is insisting this is okay because it’s not illegal.
It’s not illegal, but I still think it’s wrong. It doesn’t foster positive employee relationships or speak well to the type of employer we are. It certainly doesn’t help retention and employee engagement, which are all things I care deeply about as an HR professional.
However, even more of a sticking point for me is the fact that one of the services we provide as a nonprofit, in an effort to prevent homelessness, is trying to find people stable employment. Yet here we have an opportunity to offer four low-wage workers better hours and benefits and a more stable position, and they won’t do it because it’ll cost a few extra dollars. It feels hypocritical.
I’ve been asked to communicate this to the four employees and I just don’t know if I can. It feels ethically icky to me. Am I overreacting?
I don’t know enough about the ACA compliance process to know if this is legal or not, so I’m going to take your word for it that it is.
But yes, the law aside, if someone is routinely working full-time hours over a sustained period of time, the right thing to do is to treat them as a full-time employee, meaning that they should have access to the same benefits as other full-time employees. If there’s truly good reason not to do that, then it should be explicitly addressed and explained so that everyone is clear about the reasoning and can see that it’s being applied logically and consistently.
And yes, it’s especially messed up for an organization that works to alleviate poverty to try to skirt the line on this.
I’d say this: “Given that these employees are in fact regularly working full-time hours, I’d argue it’s at odds with our mission to try to keep them off of our full-time benefits, and that it could cause real employee morale issues if people realized it, as well as PR issues if donors or the public heard about it. I think we have an obligation to pick up these costs, and that there’s real potential of eventual fall-out if we don’t.”
If you’re overruled, there’s not much more you can do about it; at that point you’d need to decide if it’s a deal-breaker for you or not. I’d probably consider it in the wider context of what you know about the organization’s ethics and how it operates. If things are otherwise pretty good, that’s worth considering. But if this is part of a larger pattern of ethical issues or problematic treatment of employees, I’d weigh that all pretty heavily.