Listen for These Workplace Issues in Trump’s SOTU Address

U.S. Capitol Building

President Donald Trump will deliver his third State of the Union (SOTU) address Feb. 4 during a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Employers and HR professionals can expect to hear about the status of certain workplace issues, such as new Labor Department rules, possible paid-family-leave legislation, employment-based immigration and health care coverage.  

The president delivers the SOTU address to Congress at the beginning of every calendar year. "Every SOTU is about boasting," said James Plunkett, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Washington, D.C. "The president will definitely boast about the [United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement], low unemployment figures and probably the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act," he said.

Rick Grimaldi, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Philadelphia, said he also expects statements on continuing efforts to push for federal paid-family-leave laws and immigration issues for employers seeking to expand their workforce in the U.S. with foreign talent.

The skills gap may get a mention, too. According to a White House statement, "The president is helping U.S. workers by expanding apprenticeship programs, reforming job training programs, and bringing businesses and educators together to ensure high-quality classroom instruction and on-the-job training."

Emily M. Dickens, corporate secretary, chief of staff and head of Government Affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), noted that SHRM will continue to be a resource for policymakers in 2020 as the organization supports a modern workplace and public policies to create better workplaces and a better world. "While the address takes place during a whirlwind political climate," Dickens said, "SHRM remains focused on policy, not politics, advocating for positive workplace solutions." 

Planning on listening to the speech? SHRM has a way to make it even more interesting. But first, learn more about the issues at hand.

Paid Family Leave

Trump has mentioned paid family leave in prior speeches, and his daughter and senior advisor, Ivanka Trump, has advocated for passing a paid-family-leave law at the federal level.

Congress recently approved paid parental leave for federal employees, but lawmakers disagree on how to extend paid-leave benefits to more workers. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., sponsored the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would create a national family and medical leave insurance fund to provide workers with a portion of their wages for up to 60 workdays (12 weeks) in a year. Workers could use the leave to care for their own health condition or that of a relative, or to bond with a child following birth or adoption. Republicans are concerned, however, that the FAMILY Act would be funded through a steep tax hike.

SHRM SOTU Bingo NightRep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., co-sponsored the New Parents Act, which would allow parents to use a portion of their Social Security benefits after the birth or adoption of a child. "This legislation gives new parents the option of paid parental leave without raising taxes or burdening small businesses," she said. Democrats are concerned, however, about proposals that make workers choose between using Social Security benefits for leave or using them for retirement.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., co-sponsored the Advancing Support for Working Families Act, which would allow families to take up to a $5,000 advance of the child tax credit in the first year following birth or adoption. She said the bill would allow families to offset leave, child care and other expenses.

New Labor Department Rules

During the SOTU address, Trump might mention the Department of Labor's (DOL's) finalization of the overtime regulation, Plunkett noted. The new rule raised the Fair Labor Standards Act's (FLSA's) salary threshold for white-collar exemptions to overtime pay to $684 a week ($35,568 annualized) from $455 a week ($23,660 annualized).

Employees must be paid a salary of at least the threshold amount and meet certain duties tests. If they are paid less or do not meet the tests, they must be paid 1 1/2 times their regular hourly rate for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek. The new rule was expected to prompt employers to reclassify more than a million formerly exempt workers to nonexempt status and raise pay for others above the new threshold.

The DOL also updated the FLSA's definition of the "regular rate" of pay, which is used to calculate overtime premiums, and narrowed the definition of "joint employer" to provide clarity to businesses about franchise and contractor relationships. The National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are also expected to issue rules about joint-employer status under the National Labor Relations Act and anti-discrimination laws, respectively. The board already has issued a proposed rule.

Employment-Based Immigration

Trump will likely discuss immigration topics during the address. "The president supports ending chain migration, eliminating the visa lottery and moving the country to a merit-based entry system," according to the White House website.

The administration is working on a merit-based immigration proposal, while the House Judiciary Committee remains focused on ending the administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy and the practice of family separation, according to SHRM. "Immigration leaders in the House are expected to continue to look for opportunities to address workplace immigration, especially concerning a bill to eliminate employment per-country green card limits, a bill the House passed last July and is being discussed in the Senate," SHRM said.

Employment-Based Health Care

Health care reform is also a hot topic for the 2020 election year. Democratic presidential candidates have supported several proposals, including "Medicare for all," which would establish a government-run national health plan.

Additionally, questions still remain about the Affordable Care Act's (ACA's) individual mandate. President Trump has supported efforts to halt the ACA, and the monetary penalty for people who do not have insurance has been set at zero. The Supreme Court will ultimately weigh in on whether the individual mandate is constitutional, though the justices declined to fast-track the issue.

Ready to Play SOTU Bingo?

Will the president mention paid family leave, taxes, veterans or retirement savings? Follow along during the address and Democratic response and see how quickly you can fill in this SHRM SOTU bingo card. Players can enter a drawing to receive an Amazon gift card from SHRM.



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