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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How One Company Is Turning Tables On Obamacare Grief

By now we've all gotten used to the fact that the requirements of Obamacare are driving a wedge between ownership and management of many American companies, and their rank-and-file employees.

Many organizations are cutting hours of their part-time staffers, for example, so that their work week doesn't exceed the 30-hour threshold that soon will require them to buy health-care insurance for these workers or pay a penalty to the federal government.

So it was refreshing to us to read of at least one company that is turning this challenge on its head and actually using the sweeping changes of Obamacare as a tool for promoting employee engagement and loyalty.

Cumberland Gulf Group announced that it will maintain or expand some workers' schedules to make them eligible for company-sponsored care even before Obamacare kicks in early next year. An executive told the Wall Street Journal that the increased costs for care will pay off in the long run with better employee retention and customer service.

And this isn't some initiative just on the company's fringes. The Framingham, Mass.-based owner of Cumberland Farms convenience stores and the Gulf Oil brand said that an additional 1,500 workers will be reclassified as full-time and become eligible for company-sponsored health insurance in advance of the Obamacare deadline.

These workers already were working more than 30 hours a week -- but not the 40 hours previously required for access to the company insurance plan, the newspaper reported. Because Cumberland decided to make employee satisfaction and retention a corporate priority, that meant expanding access to benefits.

That's pretty refreshing. While clearly the political battle over Obamacare will continue in Washington ad infinitum as the new law gets rolled out, savvy employers -- like Cumberland -- should be looking for ways to use the law's provisions, where possible, to gain the engagement and loyalty of their staffs, not only fret about the very real challenges in how Obamacare may diminish the company.

For each individual enterprise, that may mean something different. But Cumberland Gulf Group has found its own way to set an example.

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