The predictions and fears of the Affordable Care Act’s adversaries have begun to materialize, specifically fears that the law will encourage employers to demote their employees to part-time positions in order to evade federal health care requirements. Popular clothing company Forever 21 is the first of what might be many companies to limit its non-management workers’ hours to 29.5 a week, just below the 30-hour minimum that the ACA deems full-time work.
Explaining that the company “recently audited its staffing levels, staffing needs, and payroll in conjunction with reviewing its overall operating budget,” Associate Director of Human Resources Carla Macias informed employees that effective August 31, they will no longer be full-time employees of Forever 21.
It is a move that will likely harm the reputation of the company, will absolutely harm the economic circumstances of its employees, and will function as a tangible example of the Affordable Care Act’s consequences and shortcomings.
Although the ethical nature of Forever 21’s decision is debatable, it is both rational and understandable. A company that boasts regularly low prices and frequent, sensational sales, Forever 21's competitive success is largely dependent upon its ability to maintain low manufacturing and operational costs. The ACA is an undeniable burden on this principle, and Forever 21’s management has the prerogative to take any legal measures necessary to avoid raising the costs of its products.
It is a decision that will pose moderate public-relations consequences for the company and it is an unfortunate result for its employees, but it is a pragmatic choice for any profit-driven company to make. Forever 21 will subsequently be just one of many others to take such an action if the ACA isn’t revised or repealed.
The private sector relies on minimizing costs and maximizing earnings. And those who compete within the economy must achieve those standards within the confines of rules established by the government. New rules from the ACA have been set, and Forever 21 has acted accordingly and eventually so too will its competitors and others in different sectors.
It is probable that in a perfect world, Forever 21’s management would love to continue employing full-time workers, provide them with substantial health care benefits, and maintain low prices for its customers. But in a nation with uniquely high health care costs, an issue that the Affordable Care Act fails to address, this is a regrettably unrealistic business model.
As long as health care costs remain as high as they are in the United States, many American companies will not be able to fund their employees' health insurance and provide their consumers with quality, cheap products. And as is inevitable in a capitalist economy, companies compelled to reduce costs will find a way to do so, even if their employees are disadvantaged in the process.