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Human resource professionals can provide a valuable perspective to policy makers—a perspective that balances the goals of business with the needs of employees in the modern workplace, said Henry G. “Hank” Jackson, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), at the opening of the SHRM 2015 Employment Law & Legislative Conference on March 23 in Washington, D.C.
The conference will culminate March 25 when attendees visit Capitol Hill to meet with legislators.
“Some of the most basic rules of the employer-employee relationship are being rewritten,” Jackson said, as legislators consider questions such as how many hours constitute full-time work. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, full-time employment is defined as working 30 hours per week, he noted, a major departure from the traditional 40-hour workweek.
“This has already impacted hiring practices in many industries,” he pointed out. Effective health care reform should expand access to coverage, “but it should not disrupt well-established rules relating to employment,” he said.
“Perhaps health care expansion can be implemented without redefining full-time. We need to have that discussion, and our voice is needed” in that discussion.
Jackson also touched on the definition of an employee, noting that more than one-third of the U.S. workforce performs some type of freelance work but that the Fair Labor Standards Act, as written, does not apply to them. He also pointed to the effect of unpredictable schedules on low-wage workers and how employees’ efforts at work/life balance can conflict at times with employers’ needs to maintain staffing levels.
On a slow day at a restaurant, for example, should the employer send workers home, and, if so, with full, some or no pay? How soon before a shift starts can a manager call an employee in to substitute for another employee who has called out sick?
“When is inflexibility in scheduling a risk to that business, and at what point shall the employee receive special-circumstance compensation?” Jackson asked. “These are the kind of questions that employers are asking,” he said, noting that one size rarely fits all employers when it comes to workplace policies.
He urged HR professionals to stay informed on public-policy and regulatory proposals and to use their voices to help guide lawmakers. In 2015, members of Congress and federal agencies reached out to SHRM more than 35 times to get the HR profession’s input on key issues, he said.
HR “must lead the way toward policies that work for employers and employees” while reflecting the requirements of the modern workplace, he said.
“Let’s make sure our voice is heard.”
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