SHRM CEO Supports Workflex Bill at Congressional Hearing

Workers would receive paid leave that exceeds most state and local mandates


The Workflex in the 21st Century Act would make it easier for employers to offer innovative paid leave and flexible work options to support employees' work/life needs, while enabling employers to meet their business goals, according to Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). He testified before the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions on July 24 in support of the workflex bill.

Thanks to record-low unemployment and an accelerating economy, the "war for talent" is now a way of life, Taylor said at the hearing. "Today's employers all share the same challenge: attracting and maintaining a high-quality workforce."

At the same time, more workers are requesting flexible work arrangements to help them meet life's demands. "But outdated workplace rules and government-mandated leave requirements make it hard for employers to offer the arrangements that employees want," he said.

Thus, SHRM strongly supports the workflex bill, H.R. 4219, which was introduced by Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Calif., in November 2017. The bill would provide employees with leave and flexibility, help businesses attract and retain the talent they need, and allow businesses to grow and thrive, Taylor said.

"The Workflex in the 21st Century Act is a win-win for businesses and their employees and provides Americans with the flexibility they desire when it comes to striking the right work/life balance," said Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., the committee's chairman.

Replacing the Patchwork

Inconsistent paid-sick-leave rules across states and localities make it difficult for employers to manage their businesses, Taylor noted. Currently, 10 states and more than 30 localities have adopted paid-sick-leave requirements, and each has its own definitions of terms, accrual rates, employee eligibility rules, record-keeping and reporting requirements, and thresholds for triggering coverage. 

The workflex bill offers a nationwide solution that would give employees more options and flexibility while providing predictability for employers, supporters said. H.R. 4219 would modify the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to allow employers to voluntarily offer a plan that provides a federal minimum standard of paid leave as well as a workflex option, such as compressed work schedules or telecommuting.

Employers that opt to participate in the ERISA-covered workflex plan would be able to provide uniform paid leave, instead of navigating the current labyrinth of state and local paid-sick-leave requirements, Taylor said. The bill would:

  • Make employer participation voluntary.
  • Provide paid leave and workflex options to all employees of a participating business.
  • Build on existing employer practices, as some organizations are already offering such benefits.

Under H.R. 4219, both full- and part-time employees of businesses that offer an ERISA workflex plan would receive guaranteed paid leave that exceeds all state and nearly all local sick-leave mandates. And employees would be covered under ERISA's protections against retaliation for exercising their rights under the act.

Employers that don't choose to participate would still have to comply with applicable state and local paid-leave requirements. "This means that no employee would lose paid leave under this bill," Taylor said.

SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, testifies before a House Subcommittee in support of the workflex bill.

Responses to the Bill

SHRM Advocacy Team members showed their support for the bill. Dan Perle, SHRM-SCP, a member from Jacksonville, Fla., said that the workflex bill is commonsense legislation. Stacey Dennis, SHRM-SCP, a member from Nashville, said the bill is great for all employees, because they can use the paid leave for a variety of reasons.

The bill would bring federal legislation in line with today's employee needs while reducing employer uncertainty regarding compliance with a mosaic of state and local mandates, said Loreen Gilbert, president of WealthWise Financial Services in Irvine, Calif. She testified at the hearing on behalf of the National Association of Women Business Owners.

[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connect]

The bill has received criticism. Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, said that the bill could leave workers worse off, because employees would be beholden to their employers under a voluntary plan rather than a government mandate. He said employees would lose state protections for sick time, predictable scheduling and other benefits.

Rhode Island state Sen. Gayle Goldin, D-Providence, said the bill would create uncertainty for employees, employers and local enforcement agencies and "make a mockery" of the state legislative process for those states that already offer paid leave. She said Congress should be setting a floor for good policies rather than replacing state and local laws that meet the needs of individual communities.

Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., raised concerns about the bill's exception for a business's undue hardship. The bill states that an employer may deny a leave request only if it would unduly disrupt operations, which is the same standard found in the Family and Medical Leave Act, many state leave laws and other proposed federal leave laws. 

Taylor explained that the undue hardship standard is a very high bar. Under established legal criteria, employers are held responsible for making the case that a leave was unduly disruptive. It is in the rarest of circumstances, but there are times when businesses, especially small businesses, can't afford to grant time off, Taylor said. For example, he said, it might be unduly burdensome for a florist to provide time off on Valentine's Day.

The spirit of the workflex bill is to find a solution that works for both the employer and the employee, he said. 



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