'Hidden compliance cost:' Restaurants with 50+ full-time employees must start ACA reporting in 2015
Hey, restaurant operator with 50 to 99 full-time employees: think you've got a year before you need to worry about complying with the Affordable Care Act?
While smaller businesses that employ 50 to 99 full-time employees have until 2016 to offer health care coverage to their employees, they must start tracking health care coverage-related employee data in 2015 – whether they offer coverage or not. They will be required to submit their reports to the IRS in early 2016.
With most of the attention focused on regulations mandating employer coverage of full-time employees, regulations concerning reporting may have slipped under the radar for many, according to Michelle Neblett, senior director of Labor and Workforce Policy at the National Restaurant Association.
"I'm really concerned that people aren't paying attention to it and that people don't know what it is," she said.
Starting in January, employers with 50 or more full-time employees must begin to track a whole raft of data, including who they offered coverage to, by calendar month and by social security number, Neblett said.
The employer will then report that information to both the IRS and the employee, much as wages are currently reported via W-2 and W-3 forms. The reporting timeline will be similar, too; detailed statements will be issued to the employee by Jan. 31, 2016, then additional reports are to be forwarded to the IRS.
A 'hidden compliance cost'
One of the challenges for employers is that the data required to generate these reports likely lives in a variety of places – payroll records, scheduling software, benefits systems and more. Much of that data and those systems may not currently "talk to each other," Neblett said.
Adding to the difficulty is the fact that the reports are to be generated on a month by month basis, which will be a challenge for businesses that pay employees on a weekly or other schedule that doesn't follow the monthly calendar.
"Very likely, additional programming will have to be done internally, or you are going to need to look at current vendors who can help you track this data and report to the IRS," Neblett said. "And the longer you wait to do this, the longer time it is going to take to rebuild the data, and the more expensive it's going to be to put the data together come January of 2016."
Draft forms and draft specifications that tell programmers how to deliver the systems to meet IRS requirements will be available from the IRS sometime in the next few weeks.
"It's really a hidden compliance cost that I don't think anybody's been paying attention to. Everybody's been focused on the employer mandate -- who's full-time, who do I have to offer coverage to -- and not so much on the back-end reporting, which is very detailed and data intensive," Neblett said.
Some operators still hesitating
While most employers impacted by the mandate to offer health care coverage to full-time employees (in 2015, that's employers with 100 or more full-time equivalent employees) have already dived deep into the requirements of the law and have some sort of roadmap for compliance, some have hesitated, said Neblett.
"I do sense some hesitancy on some people's part," she said. "They were waiting to see how these elections went last week, what it would mean in terms of a Republican-controlled Senate, but at the end of the day, the law isn't going to change between now and the end of the year."
President Obama is not likely to sign a repeal bill into law, Neblett pointed out.
"The law is going forward, and people need to get ready to comply, and not put it on the back burner," said Neblett.
Brenda Rick Smith / Brenda has more than 20 years of experience as a marketing and public relations professional. She invested most of her career telling the story of entrepreneurial non-profit organizations, particularly through social media.