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Staples Threatens To Fire Staff For Working More Than 25 Hours A Week

In 2015, an Affordable Care Act provision requiring large employers to offer health insurance to staff working more than 30 hours a week kicked into effect. Now, some part-time staff at Staples say management has become extra vigilant about limiting their hours.

Notice in a Staples store / Via Photo submitted to BuzzFeed News

Last year Alice*, 19, typically clocked anywhere from 25 hours to 40 hours a week at the Staples store where she works as a part-time staffer. The hours were great, she says, because she loves her co-workers and uses the job to help support her family.

She started working at Staples around the same time the office-supply chain was making headlines by forbidding its part-time employees from working more than 25 hours a week. The rules, rolled out in the lead-up to the Affordable Care Act, were seen by many staff members as an effort by the company to avoid paying benefits to "full-time" employees — classified under the law as anyone working more than 30 hours a week.

But for most of 2014, the rules didn't really affect Alice or her colleagues, who regularly exceeded the threshold and were still considered part-time. That all changed this year, though, as the employer mandate kicked in; if Staples doesn't pay benefits for people working more than 30 hours a week, it could face up to $3,000 in penalties per person.

Now, Alice is working far fewer hours — and if she clocks above 25, she may be fired.

A petition on last year urged Staples not to go ahead with a new policy limiting the number of hours that can be worked by part-timers. / Via

"Before January, it was a smack on the wrist if anyone went over 25 hours — they got an email scolding them saying, 'You went over 25, try not to do that,'" she told BuzzFeed News in an interview on the condition of anonymity, given she still works at the company. "But now it's become really serious...they've threatened to write up managers and every person that goes up over 25 hours."

Alice is one of five current and former part-time Staples employees who spoke with BuzzFeed News about the retailer's strict new policies this year, now that the Affordable Care Act provision requiring companies to offer health insurance plans to full-time employees has come into effect. Many others on a Staples employee subreddit corroborate these accounts, speaking of managers and associates getting written warnings and threats of termination for working even 10 minutes above the 25-hour weekly limit.

The employees who spoke with BuzzFeed News said they are now only scheduled up to 20 hours a week if they work in one of the worst-performing stores, and 23 hours a week at others. They all used to get more than 30 hours during good weeks. They said they are frequently told to leave early now, even if they're scheduled for additional hours. All told, it can result in $200 to $400 in lost wages per month for each employee. For these low-income workers, that's a lot of missed groceries, tanks of gas, utility payments, and, paradoxically, health care expenditures.

One employee shared the notice published above, which was recently posted in a Staples store. "Recent changes have necessitated a strong stance on part time associates going beyond 25 hours worked per week," it begins.

"Going forward, exceeding 25 hours will result in documentation for the associate. The first discrepancy will result in a note to file; following issues will result in written documentation up to and including termination. Exceeding 25 hours will also result in an immediate cut to your hours in order to preserve the integrity of 25 hour or less part time shifts."

The message goes on to point out that "associate overspending caused a $4 million dollar penalty last year." After noting that the new rule is "painful and affects each of you personally," it ends with: "I appreciate and value you."

In response to inquiries regarding the message and claims from employees, a Staples spokesperson told BuzzFeed News the company's policy on part-time worker hours "pre-dates the Affordable Care Act by many years." The policy has been in place for more than a decade, he said in an emailed statement, and "some managers may have reiterated the existing policy to our associates as part of our ongoing efforts to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of our stores."

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