Under the health law, large employers that are not offering their full-time workers comprehensive, affordable health insurance face a fine, but some employers are taking it a step further. They are requiring workers to buy the company insurance, whether they want it or not. Many workers may have no choice but to comply.

Some workers are not pleased. Many are disgruntled by the fact that their employer is requiring them to purchase health insurance and is automatically taking the premium out of their paychecks even though they don’t want to sign up for health insurance. Is this legal?

The short answer is yes. Under the health law, employers with 100 or more full-time workers can enroll them in company coverage without their permission as long as the plan is affordable and adequate. This means the employee contribution is no more than 9.5 percent of the federal poverty guideline and the plan pays for at least 60 percent of covered medical expenses, on average.

If an employee is offered minimum essential coverage that provides minimum value and is affordable, an employer does not need to provide an opt out, according to a Washington, D.C. law group firm specializing in employee benefits.

If a plan does not meet those standards, however, employees must be given the opportunity to decline those company plans, under the health law.

Experts say they do not expect many employers to coerse their workers to buy health insurance. Those employers that do may be confused about their responsibilities under the health law, mistakenly believing that in order to avoid penalties they have to enroll their workers in coverage.

“Nothing in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) directs employers to make their coverage mandatory for employees,” says a Treasury Department spokesperson. The law requires large employers “to either offer coverage or pay a fee if their full-time workers access tax credits to get coverage on their own.” 

Employer penalties for not offering insurance that meets the health law’s standards can run up to $3,000 per employee.

The practice of automatically enrolling employees in health insurance is not new. Many employers have been doing it for years. Some enroll new employees in the least expensive company plan, for example. But employees have generally had the option to opt out of the coverage if they wish.

Automatic enrollment makes it simple to satisfy the health law’s requirement that most people have health insurance, experts say.

The health law stipulates that employers with more than 200 full-time workers are required to enroll newly hired full-time employees in a plan unless the employee specifically opts out of the coverage. However, the provision won’t take effect until the Department of Labor issues regulations.

Employees who are unhappy about being required to buy into a company plan could complain to the Department of Labor, some experts say. It’s unclear whether such efforts would succeed.

Employment law experts point to a 2008 decision by the Department of Labor dealing with state laws that restrict employers from making deductions from workers’ paychecks without their consent. The department issued an advisory opinion saying that the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) pre-empted a Kentucky law that required an employer to get an employee’s written consent before withholding wages to contribute to a group health plan. However, that decision does not have the force of law, because it merely suggests how the Department of Labor views such issues