Follow the Leaders
Today in business, there are more acronyms, legal agencies, and regulatory requirements than ever before. If you employ people in your business, you must understand and comply with these requirements, which can be daunting. The number of people on your payroll determine the magnitude of your time involved and, ultimately, the work expended to comply with the requirements. The full life cycle of an employee from recruiting strategies through terminations and all actions in between present opportunities for legal issues. The key is creating best practice processes, policies, and a workplace culture that protects your company and manages risk.
Where are we now? Every February the President’s administration releases its proposed fiscal year budget for the upcoming year outlining the White House’s priorities for the year ahead. Many of the items for FY 2019 contain a number of workplace-related proposals, specifically changes to labor, healthcare, and immigration. Below are the main topics to consider when assessing strategic decisions for your business and HR policy. While some of these areas are still in the proposal stage, they will be items to keep an eye on going forward.
Paid Parental Leave establishes a federal and/or state paid parental leave program. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed and allows for unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks if your organization meets the qualifications. A new regulatory proposal suggest that paid parental leave might be found and funded within the unemployment insurance program. These provisions, if passed, would begin in 2021. Another option is a voluntary Social Security (SS) benefit program that would provide pay during parental leave as an offset to future SS benefits for employees who wish to take six weeks (2019 proposal) of paid leave for mothers, fathers and adoptive parents to stay home to recover from childbirth or bond with their children. This federal legislation did not pass for this year but many states and companies have implemented a similar policy as a way to address retention.
Employees who work for the State of Virginia are now eligible for paid parental leave per the Governor’s Executive Order signed in 2018. The new benefits, which took effect last summer, provide eight weeks of leave at full pay to mothers and fathers alike. Workers who become parents through adoption or foster placement are also eligible.
DOL and Overtime
Held over from 2016, and still ongoing, are revisions to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and overtime regulations. These regulations affect almost every employer and are paramount in the minds of employees in non-exempt status roles who are eligible for overtime compensation. In May 2019, the DOL has proposed revisions to allow employer specific policies and practices that will drive employee engagement, retain the current duties test, and adjust the nationwide salary level (using the same methodology used in previous rulemaking). The Department of Labor has proposed an increase in the salary-level threshold for white-collar exemptions by $11,648 (from $23,660 to $35,308 per year). If finalized, the new overtime rule would result in the reclassification by employers of more than a million currently exempt workers as nonexempt and an increase in pay for others above the new threshold. The proposal does not call for automatic annual adjustments to the salary threshold.
As an organization, consider the reclassification exercise as a way to review job duties, schedules, staffing levels, and salaries. This could have a profound impact on payroll and budgets by making more employees in the workforce eligible for overtime pay when converted from exempt to non-exempt. Above all, ensure that your approach is consistent across the organization.
The Second Chance Act (in the original budget proposal) supports individuals exiting prison to transition to community life and long-term employment through mentoring, job training, and other initiatives. Part of this effort includes apprentice programs at the state level to enable successful outreach strategies, partnerships, economic development strategies, and fuller integration into society. The First Step Act (legislation passed by Congress in December 2018) gives judges more discretion in sentencing offenders for nonviolent crimes and gives inmates credits for in-prison job training and education so they can earn early release.
Affordable Care Act (ACA) proposals have contained funding for a two-year cost sharing reduction in subsidies. This will impact the individual market and may shift significant costs to employers and other private sector payers as well as the federal government.
Prescription Drug Costs
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has published a proposed rule to lower the cost of prescription drug prices by encouraging drug manufacturers to pass their rebates directly to consumers (by-passing the pharmacy benefit managers). This proposal targets Medicare plans and other government health plans but, over time, will impact employer sponsored group health plans. If approved, the effective date is January 2020. In October 2018, President Trump signed into law the Patient Right To Know Drug Prices Act which allows pharmacists to discuss drug pricing with patients. Pharmacists may now educate consumers regarding their medication, pricing, and alternative cost-efficient options.
Association Health Plans and “repeal-replace” were debated throughout this past year, a lot still remains to be discussed and debated in the health insurance arena.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have significantly increased the number of I-9 audits this past year due to new federal initiatives. It is expected that I-9 audits will continue to be a significant hot button for ICE in 2020. Small to mid-sized employers are especially vulnerable and are easy targets for fines. It is important to know: 1) How to complete the employer portion of the I-9 form, 2) What documents are acceptable, and 3) How to interpret those including expired documents. Ensure all I-9 files are kept separately from other employee files; they require ongoing maintenance and compliance.
Over recent years, there has been a push for a nationwide mandatory process using E-Verify, the government’s electronic employment eligibility verification system for all employers. The same proposed funding includes staffing for more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and additional worksite investigators. Much of the funding for these initiatives are a result of employer I-9 audits and associated fines.
About the Author
Beth Williams is the Director of Human Resources at Warren Whitney. She has worked in human resource management for more than 25 years with experience that spans many diverse industries, including accounting, energy, financial services and banking, legal services, pharmaceuticals, IT, and non-profit.