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Ask HR: Are Companies Required to Offer Health Insurance?

A man in a blue suit posing for a photo.

SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. The questions are submitted by readers.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.


Question: A graphic design company just offered me a new job, and I'm leaning toward taking it, but they don't offer any health insurance benefits. Is that legal? —Anonymous


Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: First, congratulations on the job offer! While health care insurance is an important benefit, it is legal for an employer to not offer these benefits.

As it stands, there is no specific law requiring employers to provide employees with health insurance—particularly if a company has 50 full-time employees or less.

However, just because a company doesn't provide health insurance for this role doesn't mean you can't access coverage and care. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created in most states health exchanges where individuals can purchase their own health insurance plans.

But that's not your only option. You might be able to obtain health insurance through a spouse, partner or family member. Similarly, people under age 26 may be covered under a parent's plan.

If you had coverage with your former employer, you could be eligible to continue with health insurance under COBRA for up to 18 months. Some carriers may offer plans that you can turn into an individual, private plan conversion option.

Lastly, you could find private health insurance plan discounts through a professional or trade association membership. If none of the above work for you, check associations within your industry to see if any offer such discounts or other health care options.

Starting a new job is exciting, but before you take the next step, share your concerns with the company regarding the lack of insurance benefits. You never know. They may be in the process of establishing an employer-sponsored plan. Or, if they don't plan to offer coverage in the future, you could negotiate for higher pay, or perhaps other benefits, to compensate.

Good luck with your potential new job!

Q. I'm a server at a restaurant. Due to COVID-19, we have been closed for dine-in service for the last seven weeks. In turn, I haven't been getting scheduled work. The restaurant is reopening soon. Our employer is asking all staff to come in and work a mandatory 30 hours a week to clean, paint and sand tables to get the restaurant ready. If we do not accept this new role, they said, we will be terminated. Can my company fire us for not accepting a new role, one that we weren't even hired for?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I understand your concerns about taking on duties beyond what you were hired to do, but the reality is you could be let go if you're unwilling to take on new or unexpected tasks. The key phrase here is "other duties as assigned," which is found in most job descriptions.

In most cases, employers depend on their employees to chip in and do what's necessary to keep their business running and, in your case, prepare to reopen. In fact, more than 1 in 5 small-business owners have asked their employees to learn new skills to support changes in their business model.

While your question had a simple answer, I encourage you to see the upside. For starters, you still have a job—something millions of other U.S. workers can't say. Second, your restaurant is reopening, and your hours are returning. And last, these responsibilities could be a great career opportunity.

Though we like talking about change, human beings hate it—and we know most don't like adding things to their to-do list. So, if you rise to the occasion by being flexible and agile, you will stand out, and it could pay off.

After all, reopening safely and successfully is a major undertaking, and your boss may be looking for someone to manage staff or certain projects. So, yes, you may have more work, but this could be a blessing in disguise.

I wish you the best! 


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