NEW YORK — The owner of Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants is putting more workers on part-time status in a test aimed at limiting costs from President Barack Obama's health care law.
Darden Restaurants Inc. declined to give details but said the test is only in four U.S. markets.
Under the new health care law, companies with 50 or more workers could be fined if they do not provide basic coverage for full-time workers and their dependents. Starting Jan. 1, 2014, those penalties and requirements could significantly boost labor costs for companies in low-wage industries such as retail and hospitality.
Darden, which operates more than 2,000 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, has about 180,000 employees. The company said about 75 percent of its employees are part-timers.
Bob McAdam, who heads government affairs and community relations for Darden, said the company is still learning from the tests.
McAdam noted Darden is not alone in looking at ways to keep labor costs in check, with companies across the industry prepping for the new rules to take effect.
Paul Keckley, executive director of the Deloitte Center for Health Statistics, noted follow-up legislation might be needed to ensure companies don't shift more workers to part-time status to avoid providing coverage.
This summer, McDonald's Corp. Chief Financial Officer Peter Bensen said in a conference call with investors that the chain was studying factors impacting health costs, including its number of full-time workers.
Nationally, 60 percent of companies offer health benefits, but the figure varies depending on the size of the company. Nearly all companies with 200 or more workers offer benefits, compared with 48 percent for companies with 3-9 workers, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.