HR Issues Update - February 9, 2007
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Union Balloting Could Go Public

New legislation in the House of Representatives could eliminate the American workers’ right to cast private ballots in union-organizing elections.

Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced the Employee Free Choice Act along with 230 of his House colleagues. The Act would make public a worker’s vote on whether a union should serve as the bargaining representative for an organization’s employees.

Organized labor and employers allow employees to choose whether to be represented by a union in one of two ways: 1) a secret ballot election under National Labor Relations Board rules, or 2) a “card check” process, whereby union officials ask employees to sign a card demonstrating support for a union. Rep. Miller’s proposal would eliminate the secret ballot option and the federal government’s supervisory role.

SHRM is a member of the Steering Committee of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, formed to guarantee the continued right of workers to freely choose whether to be represented by a union. The Society’s concern is that a public vote could lead to a hostile work environment, employee intimidation and the removal of “free choice” in a workplace election.

In 2005, SHRM’s board of directors adopted a policy statement on Employee Representation Rights noting, “SHRM believes that government-supervised secret-ballot elections are the best process for representation and decertification elections” under the National Labor Relations Act.

SHRM Member Expresses Support and Recommendations For Genetic Discrimination Bill

SHRM reiterated its strong stance against genetic discrimination in employment at a Jan.30 hearing before the House Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Capitol Hill.

Burton J. Fishman, SHRM member and employment-law expert, testified on behalf of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination in Employment (GINE) Coalition, which SHRM co-chairs. In his statement, Fishman voiced SHRM’s vigorous support of genetic nondiscrimination and confidentiality. In addition, he cautioned legislators to make certain that the Genetic Non-Discrimination Information Act effectively targets discrimination, while not exposing well-intentioned employers to frivolous litigation.

 “Let me be clear from the outset: The GINE Coalition strongly supports genetic nondiscrimination and confidentiality,” Fishman told the committee. “The Coalition believes that employment decisions should be based on an individual’s qualifications and ability to perform a job, not on characteristics that have no bearing on job performance.”

Fishman also stressed that employers in compliance with a new federal standard cannot be liable under the myriad of different state or local laws banning such discrimination.  "There should be only one standard, your standard," he said. 

For further information on the legislation, please contact SHRM Manager of Labor and Employment Legislation Michael Layman.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the FMLA

Have you ever struggled to administer the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in your workplace? At a time when the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is seeking suggestions on how to improve FMLA, Congress may soon consider legislation to expand the Act to require paid leave.

Almost 14 years after FMLA was signed into law by President Clinton, the Act’s original sponsor, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), announced he will introduce legislation expanding FMLA to include six weeks of mandatory paid family and medical leave. Dodd, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, is a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.  Two other Democratic presidential candidates are also members of the committee: Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL).

On the regulatory front, DOL has extended the comment period for its Request for Information on the FMLA regulations until Friday, Feb. 16, 2007. SHRM members still have time to submit a comment to DOL on issues such as intermittent leave, the definition of “serious health condition,” and other aspects of the Act that have proved difficult to implement.

Access SHRM’s HRVoice web site, select one (1) comment, and make your voice heard today!

Are Employees Asking You For Investment Advice?

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) may be about to offer HR professionals some help. DOL has asked for comments on how to implement the portion of the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA) that allows an employer to offer investment advice to employees without running afoul of ERISA’s prohibited transaction rules—provided that advice includes using a flat-fee arrangement or a certified computer model.

SHRM wants more simplification and clarity. In its comments to DOL on Jan. 30, SHRM recommended preserving an employer’s right to consider a range of different approaches when deciding how to make investment advice available in the workplace.

 Until now, most fee disclosure information has been expressed in terms of confusing “basis points” and percentages. Instead of using these complex methods, SHRM is urging DOL to use dollar figures to explain the cost of plan fees over a 10-year period. In addition, SHRM suggested standardizing fee disclosures among providers so that participants can easily compare the fee structures of competing plans.

Purchaser’s Guide to Value-Driven Health Care

Do you want to help reign-in your company’s health care costs while maintaining the quality of care your employees have come to expect?

The Partnership for Value-Driven Health Care, a group of leading associations (including SHRM), has just released the Purchaser Guide to Value-Driven Health Care. This how-to guide outlines steps HR professionals can take to improve their health care: utilize health-information technology, measure and publish quality and price information, and create positive incentives for high quality, efficient care.

In November 2006, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt challenged employers to provide health care price and quality information to consumers. The Partnership developed the guide to encourage organizations to highlight specific items that purchasers should consider when buying health care for employees and their families.

As a member of the Partnership, SHRM strongly supports efforts to increase transparency and provide important health care information to plan participants.

States Push Fed’s ‘Basic Pilot’ Immigration Program

While Congress continues to ponder what to do about immigration reform, states are moving forward with  their own plans. Unfortunately, many of these state bills would require employers to verify new employees by using the federal government’s “Basic Pilot” system. The Basic Pilot system, a voluntary program administered by the Department of Homeland Security, has been widely criticized as being unreliable.

In a Jan. 24 press release, SHRM President and CEO Sue Meisinger noted that the current Basic Pilot verification system has been “incapable of meeting the needs of our nation’s employers or of protecting the public from identify fraud.”

Last year, Colorado and Georgia were the first states to enact comprehensive immigration reform requiring companies doing business with their state governments to use the Basic Pilot program for new hires. Similar bills have now surfaced in Arizona, Kentucky, North Dakota, Tennessee, South Carolina and Virginia, among other states. 

 HR professionals interested in learning more about the Basic Pilot program should access two recent webcasts that SHRM hosted on the subject.