Intern is not synonymous with seasonal employee


It’s important for employers to classify their employees correctly – especially Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) who must comply with the “pay or play” employer mandate.

The ACA does not require an ALE to offer coverage to a “seasonal” employee, however it’s imperative to understand how the ACA defines seasonal, to avoid exposure to penalties.

Per Treas. Reg. 54.4980H-1(a)(38) the term seasonal employee means “an employee who is hired into a position for which the customary annual employment is six months or less”. 

Customary” means “that by the nature of the position an employee in this position typically works for a period of six months or less, and that period should begin each calendar year in approximately the same part of the year, such as summer or winter”


  • Ski resort instructor hired each year from November until March
  •  A cattle ranch who hires extra ranch hands during foaling season, April – Sept.

However, there are no special pay or play rules for internships. Therefore, when deciding how to classify an “intern”, a key part of the seasonal definition that needs to be considered is “approximately the same part of the year”.

An employer who only hires temporary, full-time positions (i.e. interns) at a specific time of the year (e.g. summer) and they work for less than six months, it may be possible to classify them as seasonal. However an employer who hires interns at various times of the year, those interns may not satisfy the seasonal definition.

Why does it matter?

An employer mislabeling their interns as seasonal and not offering coverage for any month in which they were required to be treated as full time, may face ACA noncompliance penalties. i.e.  If the interns are less than 5% of the employee population, $312.50 per month. If they make up more than 5%, there is exposure to the §4980Ha penalty, 1/12($2,500) per month x total number of full-time employees minus 30.

Intern is not synonymous with seasonal employee but it is possible under the right circumstances for an intern to be seasonal.



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