Important legislative updates for 2015
February 1, 2015
By Diana Moroney, SPHR®Senior Human Resources Consultant
It’s February. Are you maintaining your New Year’s resolution? Do you remember what it was? If you’re like many, the answer may not reflect your well-intentioned goals. How about some new ones? Striving to keep up with new legislation may seem like a daunting goal, but one that’s worth your while. As we can consistently depend on the calendar to bring a New Year, we can also depend on the New Year bringing new legislation, or at least hot topics that employers should be aware of in order to take proactive steps to ensure compliance.
By now, everyone is familiar with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Some provisions of the Act took effect in 2014, whereas some have yet to take effect. The Employer Shared Responsibility provisions, however, went into effect January 1, 2015. According to the IRS website (irs.gov), for 2015 and after, employers generally employing at least 50 full-time employees (or an equivalent combination of full-time and part-time employees) are subject to these provisions. As currently defined by the statue (see below for possible future change), a full-time employee is an individual employed on average at least 30 hours per week. Under the Employer Shared Responsibility provisions, if these employers do not offer affordable health coverage that provides a minimum level of coverage to their full-time employees (and their dependents); the employer may be subject to an Employer Shared Responsibility payment.
As mentioned above, be on the lookout for a possible change to the “full-time” employee definition as it relates to employee benefits under the ACA. A bill has been proposed to change this definition by increasing it to 40 or more hours per week, in order to coincide with overtime eligibility.
Another area of note for 2015 is the importance of employer awareness of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), and its applicability in not only union, but non-union work environments. Portions of the NLRA afford employees of non-union employers the same coverage as their union counterparts. Of specific interest this year and going forward, is for employers to avoid “overboard” policies in the areas of social media and non-solicitation policies. All employers need to be mindful of employee rights to discuss working conditions, including benefits and pay, health and safety issues, and the right to solicit for union activities. Depending on the way handbook policies are written, appearance of restrictions in these areas should be avoided.
And, just when you thought you had your exempt versus non-exempt employee classifications figured out, there may be more revisions on the way. The Department of Labor (DOL) has yet to issue the proposed 2014 regulations that would expand overtime rights. These would include raising the current minimum weekly salary for an exempt professional from $455 to as much as $960, and increasing the amount of time required to specifically be devoted to exempt work, under the duties test for exemption. Essentially these tighter restrictions would push more individuals out of meeting the definitions of an exempt employee, therefore making them eligible for overtime.
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) also had regulations issued in 2014 that, because they are now in effect, will likely be at the forefront this year. For those employers subject to these regulations, typically federal contractors, focus areas should be: meeting utilization goals for disabled individuals, setting hiring benchmarks and establishing self-identification methods for those employees and applicants covered under the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA), and ensuring effective anti-discrimination policies and practices on gender identity and sexual orientation are in place to protect workers.
While reviewing those anti-discrimination policies, also keep the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in mind. The Pregnancy Discrimination ACT and the resulting obligations by employers for pregnancy leave have received recent press. This, and reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), will likely be a focus this year as related rulings from court cases will unfold.
With last year’s focus on legality of background checks in the hiring process, and some states issuing their own related laws, claims of discrimination based on race, national origin, age and sex will likely not slow going forward. And although a healthy workforce is a goal of many employers to ensure participation in programs are clearly voluntary, and that non-participants are not penalized.
Perhaps one of the most interesting developments is the new web-based sharing of information by federal agencies on employer violations, accidents, inspections, etc. It was generally assumed that these agencies shared information. So for example, if an employer received a DOL investigation, it should be cognizant of the DOL’s right to share non-related federal employment violations with another federal agency. However, the DOL has now created an open-to-the-public, searchable by business name, database. This contains information on an employer from agencies, including the OFCCP, the DOL’s Wage and Hour division, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) and Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
Here’s to 2015! Did you revise your resolution yet?
This article was previously published in the February 2015 Tri-State Business Times.