The US remains the world’s only advanced economy without a law mandating some amount of paid leave for new mothers or for both parents, and the question of whether to enact a national parental leave mandate became an issue in this year’s presidential campaign. With both political parties making an issue of parental leave, some kind of public policy action on this issue was looking increasingly likely to happen in the coming years, regardless of last Tuesday’s election outcome.
On the campaign trail, president-elect Donald Trump signaled support for a federal law guaranteeing six weeks of maternity leave to mothers who have given birth, but not adoptive parents or fathers. It is unclear whether this proposed rule would apply to single mothers or same-sex couples. The new benefit, as the Washington Post’s Danielle Paquette describes it, would pay new mothers around $300 a week through the federal unemployment insurance program, and Trump has said he would pay for it by eliminating fraud from that program:
The country’s Federal-State Unemployment Insurance currently funnels benefits to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. Under Trump’s proposal, new mothers whose employers do not supply paid family leave would fall into that category. Working family advocates worry the distinction would single them out as more costly and therefore less hireable, while leaving out men who are their family’s primary caretakers.
“This looks like a policy from someone who sees child-rearing as solely the responsibility of women and doesn’t understand American families,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director of the national advocacy group Family Values at Work.
Critics of the proposal question whether combating unemployment fraud could generate enough savings to pay for Trump’s maternity leave proposal, and fear that it will give employers an incentive to discard their own leave plans. It’s also not clear whether a new benefit like this could get through a Republican Congress.
Parental leave advocate Josh Levs doubts Trump’s plan would work. At Time, he argues that the states will likely make more progress on this issue than the federal government will in the coming years:
Wired’s Davy Alba explores how Donald Trump’s incoming presidential administration could change the way Silicon Valley operates:
Never mind the fact that Trump’s own companies manufacture thousands of items overseas. “We’re going to get Apple to built their damn computers and things in this country instead of in other countries,” he promised at Liberty University as early as January, a commitment he repeated at other events. His position: punish companies that offshore production by placing tariffs on their imports back to the US.
The problem is that, at least in Apple’s case, forcing adherence to this policy would be both logistically impossible and economically disastrous. Forcing Apple to produce the iPhone in the US would make the device so wildly expensive that it would become less competitive with foreign competitors like Samsung. And with shrunken margins, Apple would have to look for other places to cut down on expenses—including scaling back corporate operations or closing retail locations, which already employ thousands of Americans—jobs at home Trump purportedly hopes to save.
Trump’s immigration policy also has implications for the tech sector. The president-elect campaigned on a promise to severely tighten immigration, including a sharp reduction in the number of H-1B visas issued for skilled foreign workers, but as Alba notes, Trump has gone back and forth on that program and what policy his administration ultimately settles on remains uncertain.
Another potential point of impact is on the gig economy. According to New York University business professor Arun Sundararajan, Trump’s preferred policies could limit the growth of the type of flexible, on-demand jobs that companies like Uber and Lyft provide:
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I’m hardly the first to observe the similarities between Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. For business leaders, one thing these events have in common is that they both have created uncertainty. Companies operating in the UK and US are unsure of how trade, immigration, and numerous other regulations will change in the next few years.
The advice that many executives have been given in both markets is to take a “wait and see” approach, which at first glance seems to make sense: Why invest resources in planning for something when you don’t know what will occur? The problem is that this is exactly the approach many companies in the UK have taken toward Brexit, and now, the CIPD’s Greg Pitcher notes, they find themselves unprepared for the changes ahead:
A poll of just over 1,000 HR professionals found that just 15 per cent of organisations had started to prepare for the impact of restrictions on EU labour – despite 42 per cent of employers expecting such restrictions to damage their UK operations. … Adecco Group UK and Ireland chief executive John L Marshall III said the referendum outcome should be a “wake-up call for employers”.
Indeed it should. This lack of preparation creates a business risk. In today’s business environment, being right is only half of the battle. Companies also need to be fast. When the rules do change, the companies that are fast at making adjustments are the ones that will win. While no one can predict exactly how regulations will change, “waiting and seeing” is a surefire way to get caught flat-footed when they do. Executives within the US need to now start a process of scenario planning based on potential outcomes associated with some of the major policy changes that are likely to occur in the new presidential administration. For example:
CEOs are human beings and have their own political beliefs, but they also oversee employees whose politics can vary widely and differ greatly from their own. Emotions have run particularly high throughout the US presidential campaign that concluded in last Tuesday’s election, and we are now hearing from the companies we work with that many of their employees were stunned by Donald Trump’s victory and have had extreme emotional reactions to it. This Chicago Tribune feature on how local employers have been handling the aftermath of the election gives an indication of what leaders are dealing with:
Philippe Weiss, managing director of Seyfarth Shaw at Work, the law firm’s Chicago-based workplace consulting arm, said some Clinton supporters were calling company employee assistance programs and “reporting depressing thoughts or even sinking feelings of doom” after nights spent in a “Facebook-fueled sadness spiral.” One marketing firm, he said, reported that employees were experiencing stress reactions such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath and sweaty palms.
On the victorious side, some Trump supporters were celebrating, Weiss said. He described a cargo hauler based south of Chicago that reported “high-fives and cheers as well as some over-the-top gloating,” including terms like “losers.”
Given these extreme reactions, many CEOs are now deciding how to communicate with their workforces about the employees are experiencing. But before any communications are sent, CEOs need to realize that what they say either has the opportunity to refocus their workforce and move them forward or to alienate their workforces and create a productivity drag.
The past few days have given us a couple of high-profile examples to learn from. GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney attracted some controversy with an email to all employees on Wednesday denouncing some of the Trump campaign’s rhetoric and seemingly urging employees who agreed with it to resign. As Ross Kelly explains at Chief Executive, that email prompted some backlash:
One of the touchstones of US president-elect Donald Trump’s campaign platform was a pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. How, exactly, Trump’s policy positions and plans will play out once he gets in the Oval Office remain unclear, but given that repealing the ACA has always been a priority for Republicans, the party can be expected to act on that ambition as soon as it takes control of the White House. Sweeping changes to this law would, of course, have major consequences for both employers and employees.
In the less than a week that has passed since the election, however, Trump’s views on the ACA may have already begun to shift. For instance, Trump’s meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday appears to have changed his mind on some issues. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Friday, Trump signaled that he was open to amending the health care law rather than getting rid of it entirely:
On health care, Mr. Trump said a big reason for his shift from his call for an all-out repeal was the meeting at the White House with Mr. Obama, who, he said, suggested areas of the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare, to preserve. “I told him I will look at his suggestions, and out of respect, I will do that,” Mr. Trump said in his Trump Tower office.
“Either Obamacare will be amended, or repealed and replaced,” Mr. Trump said. The White House wouldn’t comment on Mr. Obama’s discussion with Mr. Trump on health care.
In another interview with CBS’s Lesley Stahl, which aired on Sunday, Trump indicated that he was looking to retain some of the ACA’s most popular elements, including the ban on insurers denying patients coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and the provision that young adults who live at home can stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26:
The outcome of Tuesday’s presidential election in the US is the latest in a series of recent changes in the political sphere with significant implications for the business world. Like Brexit in the UK, the victory of Donald Trump was not widely anticipated and will have major consequences in terms of changes to federal labor and employment policy, and as with Brexit, there’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty about exactly what those changes will be.
The coming weeks and months will bring more clarity on the policy intentions of the Trump administration and the likelihood of particular changes coming to pass.
Regardless of the political landscape, talent is the key differentiator of organizational performance today. HR executives have a responsibility, right now, to steer their organizations through this uncertainty by:
- Partnering with their CEO to determine how a Trump administration impacts their talent strategies,
- Providing support to segments of their workforce that will have been disaffected with the election to maintain their engagement, and
- Enabling their leaders to navigate through the uncertainty to ensure their organization continues to drive to productive outcomes.