On January 10, 2014 the U.S. Department of Treasury announced that volunteer firefighters and other emergency responders (“volunteer emergency personnel”) at governmental or tax-exempt organizations “generally” need not be counted as full-time employees or full-time equivalents (“FTE’s”) under the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA”) final regulations. The Treasury also announced that the final regulations will issue “shortly.”
Effective January 1, 2015 an employer with 50 or more full-time employees or FTE’s will be subject to ACA’s penalties unless it offers affordable health coverage to an employee who works an average of at least 30 hours per week or 130 hours per month. Although the tax treatment of stipends and other reimbursements paid to volunteer emergency personnel provides some precedent for treating volunteer firefighters as employees, ACA’s proposed regulations do not address whether these workers will be treated as full-time employees or FTE’s. Local fire and EMS departments could potentially exceed the 50-employee threshold and be subject to ACA’s penalties if volunteer emergency personnel must be counted as full-time employees or FTE’s under ACA.
The Treasury’s announcement this week clearly states that volunteer emergency personnel hours will not count in determining whether an employer meets the 50-employee threshold. Likewise, an employer that exceeds the 50-employee threshold will not be subject to ACA’s penalties on the sole grounds that it does not offer coverage to volunteer emergency personnel. Consequently, municipalities that offer volunteer emergency services avoid a potential financial burden with the final regulations’ exemption of voluntary emergency personnel.