HR Issues Update - March 23, 2007
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WE NEED YOUR OPINION!

Today’s e-newsletter marks the 6th issue of HR ISSUES UPDATE, a new SHRM member benefit designed to provide news about public policy issues that affect HR professionals.  Please help us better serve you by taking a moment to click HERE and respond to a brief survey.

Mandatory Paid Leave Under Consideration

Congress will soon consider making paid sick leave a new mandatory workplace benefit.  A plan introduced by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) would require organizations with 15 or more full-time employees to provide at least seven days of paid sick leave every year.

As currently drafted, the legislation (known as the "Healthy Families Act") also would lock-in existing leave benefits, such as “paid time off” (PTO) programs, thereby limiting or eliminating an employer’s flexibility in making even minor adjustments in leave provisions.  This is significant because many employers tailor leave policies to meet their employees' needs.

For example, PTO programs that combine sick leave and paid vacation time into one plan have become popular because they provide employees with greater flexibility.  Any federal mandate that restricts an employer’s ability to offer such voluntary leave policies could work against employees.

This legislative push to mandate paid leave comes at a time when many HR professionals are calling for improvements to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) regulations.  As the leader of the National Coalition to Protect Family Leave, SHRM is seeking greater clarity and fairness in the FMLA’s implementing rules.  During SHRM’s recent Employment Law & Legislative Conference, nearly 200 SHRM members shared their concerns on this issue with Senate and House lawmakers. 

At the moment, it’s too early to know when the Kennedy - DeLauro "Healthy Families Act" will be considered by Congress.  On a separate but related front, the U.S. Department of Labor is in the process of considering possible changes to existing FMLA rules.

 

SHRM Weighs In on U.S. Supreme Court Cases

SHRM recently filed two amicus or "friend of the court" briefs to offer its views on cases that have a potential impact on HR professionals and the workplace. 

In the first case, BCI Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Los Angeles v. EEOC, SHRM supported BCI Coca-Cola in a dispute to determine whether the company is liable for race discrimination due to a supervisor allegedly discriminating against and terminating an employee.  SHRM argued that a HR professional who acts independently of a supervisor’s report has not violated the disparate treatment provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  In addition, the Society stated that HR professionals should not be expected to conduct full investigations for every termination.  The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hold oral arguments on this case in April.

In the second case, Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America v. Edmund Brown, SHRM filed a brief that challenges a California law (AB 1889) prohibiting employers who receive a state grant of over $10,000 from using those funds to “assist, promote, or deter union organizing.”  SHRM argued that the California law has a significant impact on smaller employers that receive state funds.  The Society also emphasized that the law is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and undermines the enforcement of the Act. 

For more information about these amicus briefs, please contact Kenya Wiley at kwiley@shrm.org.

States Drafting Their Own Immigration Reforms

While prospects for immigration reform remain uncertain in Washington, DC, state legislatures are moving forward with their own immigration proposals.  Nearly 25 states are considering bills that would compel employers to participate in the federal government’s “Basic Pilot” program, an electronic employment verification system administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

SHRM believes the Basic Pilot is unreliable and ineffecitve.  Recently, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the Basic Pilot was unable to provide employers with an accurate and timely initial response about potential new hires approximately 15% of the time.  SHRM President and CEO Sue Meisinger has said the Basic Pilot system is “incapable of meeting the needs of our nation’s employers or of protecting the public from identity fraud.” 

SHRM, together with major human resource organizations and thousands of U.S. employers from every sector, has launched the HR Initiative for a Legal Workforce, a national advocacy campaign to promote an effective federal employment verification system.  This approach also closely examines the ramifications of state imposed mandates and their conflict with proposed federal legislation.  Furthermore, SHRM has been working with its local chapter affiliates to advocate on behalf of HR professionals in opposition to mandated participation in the Basic Pilot program.   For more information about the HR Initiative for a Legal Workforce, please click HERE.

At the moment, participation in the Basic Pilot system is voluntary.  Most states favor requiring employers to participate in the program, with many threatening penalties or the loss of contracting privileges for those who fail to use the Basic Pilot.  Other states are considering a “liability shield” to protect employers from penalties if they unknowingly hire illegal workers while participating in the Basic Pilot program.   

SHRM has been working with its local chapter affiliates to advocate on behalf of HR professionals in opposition to mandated participation in the Basic Pilot program.   SHRM has issued HR Voice action alerts opposing bills pending in Rhode Island and Oklahoma.  Alerts may be issued for other states.


Alabama SHRM Members Go To Capitol Hill

Continuing a tradition that began nearly 15 years ago, the Alabama State Council organized the first of two "Day Inside the Beltway" events planned for 2007, during SHRM’s Employment Law & Legislative Conference.  Representatives from 10 Alabama SHRM chapters conducted meetings with the state’s two U.S. senators and seven representatives.

SHRM members shared their views with elected officials on the "Employee Free Choice Act" (H.R. 800); employment verification in immigration reform; and the need to clarify rules governing the Family and Medical Leave Act. 

The Alabama State Council offers scholarships to its state chapters to help offset the cost of sending members to these events.  Ten SHRM members in last week’s visits were participating for the first time.  We greatly appreciate the Alabama State Council’s commitment to advocacy and its continued sponsorship of two "Day Inside the Beltway" events each year. 

For information about how to organize similar events for your state councils or chapters, please contact SHRM’s member advocacy specialist Bernard Coleman at bcoleman@shrm.org.     

Conference Videos and Photos!

You can experience SHRM's 2007 Employment Law & Legislative Conference  - again or for the first time  -  through www.SHRM.org.  Two videos and numerous photos from the Conference can be viewed on the Society’s Website.  

The videos show U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao's speech and three SHRM members' visits to Capitol Hill.  In addition, you can view a slide show of photos showing SHRM members and speakers at the Conference by clicking HERE.