Some small businesses question new health care rules for temporary workers

  • Owner of Park Avenue Catering Bruce Riezenman, right, and his chef Victor Roldan do some final seasoning to the food to be sent out from their headquarters in Cotati on Wednesday, October 2, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Bruce Riezenman, owner of Park Avenue Catering in Cotati, voted for Barack Obama and supported the President's hard-fought campaign to make Obamacare the law of the land.

Riezenman, who also owns the Park 121 cafe in Sonoma, has long provided robust health benefits to his full-time employees. He says he strongly supported a law that would require other business owners to do the same.

"I thought that now everyone else would have to do what I've been doing all along," he said.

However, with the official launch this month of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Riezenman is now having serious concerns about certain aspects of the law.

Specifically, he's worried about the law's requirement that employers with 50 or more workers must provide them with health insurance in 2015. That's fine if you have 50 regular full-time employees — or the equivalent of 50 full-time part-timers — working for you.

But what about businesses like Riezenman's that rely on a large number of seasonal workers? Under the new law, seasonal employees who work more than 120 consecutive days are considered full-time employees.

As such, they must be provided with health insurance — a financial burden that usually doesn't pencil out, given how few hours they work during the year.

"The biggest thing for me is: Am I under 50 employees, or am I over?" Riezenman said. "The majority of what I do is on-call and seasonal workers."

Riezenman said he has about 25 full-time employees, between 15 and 20 part-time workers and about 200 seasonal workers. Because of the nature of the catering business, his workforce swells during peak-season months.

His seasonal employees include college students and stay-at-home moms who want to make a little extra money for the holidays. About 75 percent of his business happens during a six-month period.

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