SHRM Advocates Are Shaping Workplace Policies in Washington

 

By Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP, and Allen Smith, J.D. November 14, 2019
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​More than 400 HR professionals will descend on Capitol Hill Thursday to lead the conversation on workplace public policy with their elected officials.

Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) members plan to show their support for several employment bills that are working their way through Congress. Additionally, SHRM has filed a brief with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) urging the board to stop protecting workers who use abusive language during union or other concerted activity. Here are the key proposals SHRM advocates are backing.

Tax-Free Education Assistance

Under the Employer Participation in Repayment Act (H.R. 1043 and S. 460), employers would be allowed to offer tax-free student loan repayment benefits to workers.

"Benefits such as these are instrumental as employers seek to recruit and retain talent in a competitive market," said Chatrane Birbal, SHRM's director of policy engagement. "SHRM has long advocated for strengthening and improving employer-provided education assistance."

Currently, employers can provide each eligible employee up to $5,250 tax-free as part of a tuition reimbursement program. The Upward Mobility Enhancement Act (H.R. 4849) would raise the maximum allowable benefit to $11,500.

"The benefit continues to be popular among employers and employees," Birbal said. "However, the benefit has not been updated to meet 21st century workforce needs."

Work Opportunity Tax Credit

SHRM advocates also support renewing the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), which can help employers close the skills gap by encouraging them to hire applicants who often are overlooked, such as people with criminal histories, military veterans, people with disabilities and the long-term unemployed. 

By hiring from these often-marginalized groups, an employer may receive a tax credit, which helps the company save money, said Jeanne Madden, division vice president and general manager at ADP Tax Credit Services in Florence, S.C. "So not only can the WOTC program help HR professionals to address the challenge of finding diverse, qualified applicants, it also allows the HR department to have a positive financial impact on the organization."

The WOTC is set to expire at the end of the year unless it is renewed by Congress. SHRM supports the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and Jobs Act (H.R. 2213 and S. 978), which proposes to make the credit permanent.

"Programs like WOTC promote valuable talent pools, incentivize workplace diversity and help reduce the growing talent shortage at thousands of workplaces in the U.S.," Birbal noted.

Brief Submitted on Profane Outbursts

SHRM also filed a brief with the NLRB on Nov. 12 on whether the board should reconsider the standards for determining if a worker's profanity or slurs during union or other concerted activity disqualify the employee from National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protection. The board asked on Sept. 5 for briefs to address this issue. In recent years, the NLRB has issued decisions that have shocked employers, including a ruling that a profane Facebook rant was protected activity under the NLRA and a decision that racist remarks during picketing were protected.

In its brief, SHRM said "the NLRB should adopt a bright-line rule that workplace language or conduct that is racially or sexually charged, profane or abusive is not protected under the act." Organizations need the freedom to maintain standards of civility and respect, unhampered by outdated NLRB case law that has allowed incivility and even racial and gender slurs to go unchecked in the workplace, SHRM added. "Employers must be able to set the tone from the top of an organization down by taking a zero-tolerance stance on the use of vulgar, profane, abusive or offensive racial or sexual language in the workplace," the brief said.

Federal courts have routinely found that a single racial or gender slur violates federal anti-discrimination laws, the brief also noted.

A strong rule prohibiting offensive racial or sexual language would harmonize the NLRA with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal, state and local anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws.

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