HR Issues Update - March 9, 2007
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SHRM Launches Coalition on Employment Verification

Under the leadership of SHRM, leading human resource (HR) organizations and thousands of U.S. employers from every sector have launched a national advocacy campaign to ensure that any immigration reform legislation includes an effective employment verification system.

The coalition, known as The Human Resource Initiative for a Legal Workforce (“HR Initiative”), is seeking major improvements to the current employee verification system designed to curtail illegal immigration by improving the security and reliability of the verification information available to employers.  The existing system is inadequate because it relies on paper documents that can be stolen or falsified.   

“Effective, state-of-the-art verification is the most essential part of any immigration reform,” said Susan R. Meisinger, President and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.  “It is the only way to prevent fraud and ensure a safe, legal and fair workplace.”

Employers face significant challenges under today’s verification system.  On the one hand, they are responsible for verifying employees’ identity and work authorization documents.  On the other hand, they risk government sanctions for civil rights violations if they are too aggressive in their scrutiny.  An accurate and efficient national electronic database for employers to check potential employee eligibility is non-existent in today’s workplace.

In consultation with an expert group of HR professionals assembled with input from SHRM members, the HR Initiative coalition has developed the following five principles to be included in any employment verification system:

1: Shared Responsibility Among Government, Employers and Employees – Employers, employees and the federal government should share responsibility for a reliable, efficient, accurate system to verify employment eligibility. 

2: Fair Enforcement – Employers should be liable for their own hiring decisions, not those made outside their control.

3: Accuracy and Reliability – Employers should not be forced to participate in a program until the government provides assurances that the system is accurate and reliable.

4: Ease of Use – A new verification system should be easy to understand and implement at all worksites.

5: Deployment of Latest Technologies – A new verification system must make false documents and identity theft ineffective.  One way to achieve effective and efficient worksite enforcement is to include biometric identifiers or other state-of-the-art technology in the work authorization process that is capable of automatically recognizing an individual’s identity.

The HR Initiative coalition founding members are the Society for Human Resource Management, American Council on International Personnel, College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, HR Policy Association, and the International Public Management Association for Human Resources.

For more information about this advocacy effort, please access the HR Initiative website.

“Gun” Battle in Utah

The Utah state legislature is the latest battleground over whether or not employers will continue to determine their own policies regarding weapons on company property.  Ten state legislatures are currently debating proposals that would require employers to allow workers to bring weapons to the workplace.  As the result of letter writing campaigns by SHRM’s Utah members and other business groups, Utah lawmakers decided to “kill” the bill for this year.

The issue of property rights vs. firearm rights has been heavily debated in Utah, where a 2004 Supreme Court decision (in Hansen v. America Online, Inc., 96 P.3d 950, 2004 UT 62) found that property owners have the right to restrict firearm possession on their own property.

Utah State Senator Ross Romero (D-Salt Lake City), who led the opposition to the weapons-in-the-workplace legislation, noted that property owners can, under current law, choose to allow firearms on their property — and that many in Utah do.  Romero argued that this legislation basically says to private employers 'You have to allow guns on your properties.' 

SHRM has advocated throughout this debate that employers should have the ability to determine for themselves the rules that govern their workplaces. 

House Passes “Card Check” Union Organization Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation that would allow unions to use a process known as “card check” to determine whether or not employees want to be represented by a union.  The bill, known as the Employee Free Choice Act, would allow union representatives to forego a private vote under the supervision of the National Labor Relations Board.  According to the bill’s sponsors, if a majority of employees in a bargaining unit sign an authorization card in favor of a labor organization, the National Labor Relations Board must certify the union as the sole representative for those workers.

SHRM opposes the bill on the grounds that a private ballot best protects the rights of individual workers.  SHRM is a leading member of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, a partnership of employee and employer organizations that supports workers’ existing right to a federally supervised private ballot.

While the bill easily passed the House of Representatives, significant opposition is anticipated in the U.S. Senate.  The White House also recently announced that President Bush will veto the bill if it passes both chambers of Congress.

Maine HR Members Advance the Profession

About 50 HR professionals in Maine recently participated in the second biennial Human Resource Professionals Day in Augusta.  The state’s seven SHRM chapters were represented.

Convening for the kickoff event, SHRM Maine State Council Director Jackie Little of the Lewiston School Department thanked the planners and participants and read the Governor’s proclamation declaring “HR Management Professionals Day.”  State Governmental Affairs leader Bill Saufley showcased the workings of the Maine legislature and discussed the importance of communicating regularly with one’s elected officials.

During their day in the capitol, members were addressed by Appropriations and Fiscal Affairs Committee Chair Peggy Rotundo, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor Laura Fortman, and Farmington Representative Janet Mills, a member of the Appropriations Committee. 

Senate Labor Committee Chair Ethan Strimling of Portland also spoke on issues of tax and business policy, and described the power that constituents have in influencing their legislators.  Maine Human Rights Commission John Gause discussed recent cases, regulations, and proposed legislation on the definition of “disability” under Maine’s antidiscrimination laws, and briefed the group on a pending rulemaking regarding sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. 

With as many as 225 bills pending before the Maine legislature that address HR policies, participants were urged to share their expertise and concerns with their legislators throughout this session.