August 28, 2013 at 1:00 am

Eateries wary of health care costs may cut workers' hours

As restaurants scramble to comply with a law requiring access to health insurance for most full-time workers, one approach is attracting attention: Have fewer full-time workers.

Across the nation, some restaurateurs are looking at cutting back on the number of workers who put in 30 or more hours a week — the Affordable Care Act threshold for full-time status.

Employees at some chains say workers have seen their weekly hours cut from 35 or 40 to, in some cases, fewer than 20.

The National Restaurant Association, which has opposed Obamacare, is backing the Forty Hours Is Full Time Act of 2013, introduced in the House this month.

The Department of Labor leaves it up to employers to determine workers’ full-time status, but the Fair Labor Standards Act requires overtime after 40 hours.

Dallas-based Consolidated Restaurant Operations Inc., which owns 10 brands, including Cantina Laredo, is opening nine restaurants this year and expects to hire 500 people.

“In that process we are consciously trying to minimize the number of hours of the new employees that are hired, because we are unsure of the health care legislation, said John Harkey Jr., company chief executive. “We haven’t reduced hours artificially, but we have taken the step of hiring fewer full-time people.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, employers with 50 or more full-time-equivalent workers will be required to offer access to affordable health care to staffers who clock in with 30 or more hours a week.

The restaurant association has said costs to employers will go up under the law, but the trade group does not have an estimate of how much.