Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Part-time workers entitled
to health benefits

Question: I work "part time," more than 20 hours a week but less than 40 hours per week every week, but I don't get health benefits from my employer. Aren't I entitled to health benefits under the law? How do I get my employer to provide health benefits for me? And if I have been entitled to health benefits, can I get her to reimburse me retroactively for what I have paid for my health benefits for the past year?

Q: I work more than 20 hours per week at a fast-food restaurant. Why is it that I do not have any medical insurance?

Answer: From the general information provided for both jobs, it appears both of you should be getting health benefits from your employers under the Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act, said Tom Jackson, spokesman for the state Department of Labor & Industrial Relations.

However, there are basic criteria that have to be met. Jackson advised calling the department's enforcement branch at 586-9202 and "we will investigate."

The Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act requires private-sector employers to provide a minimum medical plan approved by the state labor director. The employee may be asked to share in the cost up to a maximum amount.

To be eligible an employee must work 20 or more hours per week for four consecutive weeks and meet certain other requirements.

Jackson said there is nothing in the law that addresses reimbursement.

"What could happen," he said, is "if that person had gotten sick or incurred any medical expenses, he or she can probably try to get the company to pay for them, because the company is at fault."

He also emphasized that the department doesn't distinguish between part-time and full-time workers, as long as a person has worked more than 20 hours a week for four consecutive weeks. The four-week requirement is the key factor, he said.

Q: We are a small company with no employment contract. Because of a turndown in the economy, we need to reduce our expenses. Is it possible to reduce someone's vacation time to two weeks from three weeks?

A: "Vacation time is a benefit," said Tom Jackson, spokesman for the state Department of Labor & Industrial Relations.

In the absence of a contract, an employer has a right to cut the vacation time, he said.


The brakes on my car gave out as I was driving near the airport recently. Luckily, I was able to turn into a gas station, but the manager said he could not fix the problem and the car had to be towed to a repair shop. I walked to a nearby rental car company. After explaining my plight, an agent took pity on me. "Tell you what," he said. "I'll give you the 'distressed lady' rate." He also upgraded the car from a compact to a midsize vehicle. I don't know if that's an official company rate, but I appreciate his consideration. Mahalo also to the gas station manager, who let me use his phone and leave my broken car there until the tow truck arrived. -- Not So Distressed Anymore


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