Offering health coverage only to select employees

Q. We currently provide health insurance for 20 employees who work full time (40 hours per week all year). We have some clerical staff who work less than 40 hours per week and aren’t eligible for insurance. We also have professional tax preparers who work many hours during tax season, but only 10 to 20 hours the rest of the year. Can we legally add just the tax preparers to our health insurance and not the clerical staff? — R. M., Pennsylvania

 A. Just as you can pay skilled workers a higher salary, as a general rule, you can also provide them with better and/or additional fringe benefits. There’s nothing per se unlawful about providing your part-time tax preparers with health insurance coverage, even if you don’t extend similar coverage to other part-timers.

To be on the safe side, however, we suggest looking at the composition of all part-timers (with respect to race, gender, age, national origin, etc.) to make sure that you aren’t opening the door to a discrimination claim. Also, employers purchasing insurance should consult with their carrier to make sure their plans are acceptable to their state’s insurance agency. And self-insured employers should make sure they aren’t violating the highly compensated employee rules under the Internal Revenue Code.