Thousands of part-time state workers, including many in Hampton Roads, are being told they'll be allowed to work no more than 29 hours a week going forward.
The reason: The federal Affordable Care Act requires that employees working 30 hours a week or more receive health care benefits - which would cost Virginia tens of millions of dollars a year.
The new policy will mean a pay cut for many part-timers, including adjunct college professors.
The 29-hour limit is on its way to becoming state law, thanks to language inserted into the state budget at the request of Gov. Bob McDonnell's administration. The language appears in both versions of the budget adopted Thursday by the Senate and House of Delegates.
The language limits wage employees - the state's term for those paid by the hour - in all branches of state government to an average of 29 hours a week over the course of a year.
Anticipating legislative approval of the policy, the state Department of Human Resource Management has advised all state agencies to implement it now.
The state has more than 37,000 wage employees. More than 7,000 of them have been working at least 30 hours a week, according to a recent survey taken by the department.
Providing basic health care benefits to those workers and their dependents would cost the state as much as $110 million a year, the department estimates.
Hardest hit by the new policy will be Virginia's 23 two-year community colleges, which collectively employ more part-timers working 30-plus hours a week than any other state agency, according to the survey.
"It affects us in a big way," said Jeffrey Kraus, a spokesman for the Virginia Community College System.
Paul Logan, a spokesman for McDonnell, said the policy will apply to adjunct faculty - instructors who are paid a flat fee per course taught.
Some adjunct teachers carry the rough equivalent of a full-time course load. For them, the new policy might mean up to a one-third cut in pay.
Tidewater Community College employs 1,336 adjunct teachers and 876 hourly wage employees on its four campuses in South Hampton Roads. Of the wage employees, 181 have been working 30 hours a week or more, spokesman James Toscano said.
"We're expecting that there will be an impact on our adjunct faculty" from the new state policy, Toscano said, but just what that impact will be is unclear. The school is awaiting clarification on how the 29-hour limit will be applied to teachers.
Only 22 adjunct teachers at TCC are now carrying the maximum adjunct course load of 29 credit hours over two semesters, Toscano said. That's one hour shy of the standard 30-hour course load for salaried faculty.
Norfolk State University, a four-year school, has more than 500 wage employees working 30-plus hours a week, according to the state survey.
Pilot writer Elisabeth Hulette contributed to this report.
Bill Sizemore, 804-697-1560, firstname.lastname@example.org