SeaWorld Entertainment is cutting back work hours for some part-time employees, a move that will help it avoid an Obamacare mandate to offer those workers health insurance.
The amusement-park operator on Monday confirmed in a statement to the Orlando Sentinel that it planned to limit work hours for some of its 18,000 part-time and seasonal employees to 28 hours per week, down from 32 hours, beginning in November.
Orlando-based SeaWorld, a public company that owns theme-park chain Busch Gardens and namesake marine parks in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday morning.
The policy change was interpreted by some as a reaction to provisions in the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as Obamacare, something the company neither confirmed nor denied to the Orlando Sentinel. A part of that law that goes into effect in 2015 requires companies with more than 49 employees to provide health insurance to all full-time workers or pay a penalty. The definition of “full-time” in the law is 30 hours, just above the new limit being set by Sea World.
“There is no other reason to change your cap from 32 hours to 28 other than" the Affordable Care Act, Duncan Dickson, a former human-resources executive at Walt Disney World who now teaches at the University of Central Florida, told the Sentinel.
SeaWorld joins several other companies that have recently announced they are cutting benefits, limiting hours or changing staffing practices in apparent response to Obamacare. In August, retailer Forever 21 sent a memo to several hundred full-time employees informing them they would be reclassified as part-time workers and stripped of some benefits. At the time, Forever 21 said it was not acting in reaction to Obamacare.
HuffPost readers: Are you an hourly worker who's been told by your company to expect changes next year with Obamacare? Tell us about it.
Fast-food chain White Castle, whose executives have been vocally opposed to the Affordable Care Act, told The Huffington Post in late July that it would likely hire only part-time workers after the law went into full effect, citing the high costs of insuring its employees.
Investor's Business Daily, a newspaper that has taken an editorial stance against the Affordable Care Act, has compiled a list of 258 employers that have blamed Obamacare when recently cutting hours or otherwise reducing staff.
Data from the White House Council of Economic Advisers earlier this month suggested those cases might not represent a trend, however, as more than nine out of ten jobs created since the law passed have been full-time positions.
Indeed, large companies that have suggested they will cut hours since Obamacare became law have sometimes been subject to intense bouts of bad publicity as a result. Darden Restaurants, the parent company of the Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurant chains, walked back a pilot program that involved hiring more part-time than full-time workers after negative media reception affected financial results, company CEO Clarence Otis said in December.
For its part, Forever 21 was “dragged through the mud” by the public after its July announcement, according to The Wall Street Journal.
SeaWorld is already facing a spate of bad press after the release of documentary film “Blackfish,” released in July, which argues captive killer whales kept by the company are subject to inhumane stresses and die at younger ages than they would in the wild. SeaWorld has aggressively pushed back against the documentary.
Although SeaWorld does not yet appear to be facing a widespread backlash about its plan to cut worker hours, one commenter on the company’s Facebook page did express outrage.
“Looks like our family is done with SeaWorld,” the commenter wrote. “If you won't treat/take care of your employees with fair pay and health insurance, you will not be getting my business.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Affordable Care Act requires employers with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance to all full-time workers or pay a penalty. The requirement actually applies to employers with 50 or more employees.