HR Can Lead as Congress Tackles Reform

Health care, immigration and paid-leave reform all are marked for change

By Allen Smith, J.D. Mar 13, 2017
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​SHRM President and CEO Henry "Hank" Jackson at the SHRM Employment Law and Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Vanessa Hill

HR's leadership in health care, immigration and paid-leave reform will help the employer-employee relationship thrive, according to Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) President and CEO Henry "Hank" Jackson at the SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.

Speaking March 13, Jackson laid out HR's role in the three hotly debated issues:

  • Most Americans get their health care coverage through their employers, he noted. He called for Congress to protect the employer-based health care system.
  • No one knows better than HR that the workforce is global, as talent is scattered around the world, he added. Immigration systems must support employers as they seek to recruit and retain highly skilled workforces. Employers need sensible, fair policies to support the mobile workforce, he said.
  • Many employers offer paid leave. Companies like Deloitte, Adobe and American Express all are in a race to provide paid leave to attract and keep the best talent, he said. Despite employers voluntarily providing paid leave, congressional policymakers are looking at mandatory approaches, he noted.

"Worse than that, there is a patchwork of state laws" with differing leave requirements, Jackson said. Employers have a tough time juggling the numerous regulations. HR can advocate for a single approach that rewards employers that provide paid leave, he noted.

"There's never been more at stake for our profession," Jackson said. That's why we need "new policies for the new 21st century workplace" based on the principles of innovation, fairness and competitiveness. These principles aren't red versus blue issues or urban versus rural topics, he noted. They are principles for everyone looking to succeed. "There's no better-prepared group to speak on these issues than HR," he said.

Health Care

Repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is one of President Donald Trump's major priorities in the first 100 days of his administration, but it will be difficult to achieve, noted Michael Aitken, SHRM vice president for government affairs. The House of Representatives is moving a bill called the American Health Care Act forward via the budget reconciliation process but the bill would amend only the tax provisions of the ACA.

The bill would reduce the employer mandate penalty to zero for failing to provide health care coverage to workers. And it would reduce the penalty to zero for the failure of an individual to maintain minimum essential coverage. However, not enough senators support the repeal of these mandates for the measure to pass Congress, Aitken said.

Immigration

Immigration reform was a major issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, and migration issues are at the forefront of discussions in the international community, he noted. Congress will likely consider immigration enforcement and could focus on employment-based visas as well.

For help determining which job applicants can work legally in the United States, more than 10 percent of U.S. employers now use E-Verify. Mandatory electronic employment eligibility verification would be helpful if it worked, was easy to use and employers were held harmless for flaws in the system, Aitken said.

Currently, employers too often are fined for paperwork violations of Form I-9 requirements, he observed. In 2006, no employers were fined for violation of lawful employment requirements. In 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, employers were fined $16.3 million.

Paid Leave

California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island all have mandatory paid family leave mandates, Aitken pointed out. The state of Washington passed a paid-parental-leave law in 2007, but the legislation has been postponed until a funding mechanism is identified. In the four states where paid family leave is funded and mandated, employers and employees pay for it, he noted.

In California, there also are six localities that require paid sick leave, creating multiple layers of compliance, Aitken said.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Coordinating Leaves of Absence]

SHRM supports a proposal for paid leave to be provided on a voluntary basis. Participating employers would be exempt from state and local mandates and be able to have the flexibility to design paid-leave programs that work for them, he noted. Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Calif., is the lead sponsor of the proposal.

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