Though the United States is one of just a handful of countries around the world that does not require organizations to grant their employees paid parental leave by law, recent years have seen more US states pursue mandates of their own, while a growing number of large, nationwide employers have voluntarily adopted more robust policies for working mothers and, increasingly, fathers and caregivers as well.
These trends have been driven by the public conversation and advocacy around parental leave, by a growing body of research showing the various benefits of parental leave to working families, and also by business considerations, as organizations struggle to attract and retain workers (particularly women) in a tight and competitive labor market. The latest research into what employees and candidates value, including Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor, shows that flexibility and work-life balance are becoming more and more important to the workforce. As millennials grow up and start families, this massive generational cohort is voicing a clear expectation that employers will support them—both moms and dads—in balancing career and family obligations.
Several developments have taken place in this area over the past month that employers should be aware of, as they illustrate the accelerating pace at which paid leave benefits are transforming from nice-to-have features to essential—and in a growing number of jurisdictions, mandatory—components of the employee value proposition.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced earlier this month that he had directed labor regulators to devise a plan to clarify the duties test in the state’s overtime regulations and raise the salary threshold at which employees become exempt from overtime, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Daniel Moore reported:
The proposal, which expands overtime in phases over three years, would raise the amount that certain salaried employees can earn and still qualify for overtime pay. Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, the state would raise the salary limit to $31,720, or $610 per week. The threshold will increase to $39,832 on Jan. 1, 2021, followed by $47,892 in 2022, which the Wolf administration estimates will extend overtime eligibility to up to 460,000 workers.
But the proposal’s future could hinge on the outcome of the gubernatorial election, as Gov. Wolf faces multiple Republican challengers in a re-election battle this year. The governor has unsuccessfully pressed the legislature to pass an increase in the minimum wage, which sits at $7.25 an hour, the lowest allowed by federal standards.
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry is expected to publish an initial proposal for public comments in March. Wolf’s proposal is similar to the new overtime rule the Obama administration attempted to enact in 2016, which was set to abruptly raise the overtime salary threshold from $23,660 to $47,476 until a federal judge invalidated it last August.
In his first official act since taking office on January 16, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has issued an executive order barring state entities from asking job candidates for their salary histories. Murphy’s order is the beginning of what he says will be a series of efforts to address gender pay disparities in the state, Porzio Bromberg & Newman attorneys Kerri A. Wright, David L. Disler, Richard H. Bauch, and James H. Coleman, Jr., report at Lexology:
The Executive Order is scheduled to take effect on February 1, 2018. It prohibits State entities from inquiring into a job applicant’s current or previous salaries, until the entity has made a conditional offer of employment and provided its compensation package. It further prevents the employer from searching public records databases to ascertain an applicant’s salary history and requires the employer to take all reasonable measures to avoid inadvertently discovering a potential employee’s salary history. However, nothing in the law prevents job applicants from volunteering previous compensation information, at which point, public entities may verify this information.
The order only affects institutions under the direct control of the executive branch of New Jersey’s state government—i.e., those over which Murphy himself presides—as only legislative action can institute a broader prohibition. Local governments and private employers are not affected. However, Murphy said the order was his “first meaningful step towards gender equity and fighting the gender pay gap,” and that he intends to sign legislation that would ban salary histories throughout the state.
As cybercrime targeting the valuable personal data organizations hold about their customers and employees becomes more common, HR can add value to and even lead efforts within organizations to strengthen cybersecurity and data protection, first because HR department handle a lot of private data and as such are common targets for cybercriminals, second because enhancing cybersecurity systems means recruiting valuable and often hard-to-find cybersecurity talent, and finally because effective cybersecurity depends on ensuring that employees adopt best practices regarding passwords, online communications, and the handling of sensitive digital materials.
Currently, cybersecurity is less about compliance and more about protecting against breaches, but laws around data security are moving in the direction that cybersecurity will become a compliance issue for many US employers, at least at the state level, in the years to come (European law is also evolving in this regard). New York State, for example, enacted a regulation earlier this year that will make it mandatory for banks, insurers and some other private companies to meet a set of minimum cybersecurity standards. At SHRM, Dinah Brin dives into how HR can help New York employers face this mandate starting next year:
Among other measures, the regulation requires each covered entity to establish a cybersecurity program to protect company data systems and private consumer information from hacking. Affected companies, also required to implement written cybersecurity policies, must be prepared to detect, respond to and report system breaches, and will have to conduct penetration testing and risk assessments. …
The new overtime rule proposed by the Obama administration last year, which would have increased the overtime salary threshold from $23,660 to $47,476, currently looks very unlikely to come into effect in its original form. A federal judge in Texas struck the rule down in September, finding that the Labor Department had erred in setting the new rules for overtime eligibility based on salaries alone and not job descriptions. Meanwhile, the department’s new leadership under Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has signaled that it would rewrite the rule to make it less burdensome to employers, issuing a request for comments in July as it began a process of reviewing the regulation.
Nonetheless, policymakers, including Acosta himself, agree that the overtime threshold is overdue for some kind of increase, and most observers believe the Labor Department is likely to adopt a new rule that raises the threshold less dramatically, either through incremental increases or different salary tests depending on location, company size, or type of role.
Employers who had hoped to rest easy after the Obama-era rule was held up in court still face an uncertain change in regulation in the coming year, including the possibility that Acosta chooses to appeal the ruling against the 2016 rule. Erin Mulvaney discusses that uncertainty at the National Law Journal:
“Employers have been left in limbo,” said Lori Brown, president and chief operating officer of Compliance HR at a webinar this week that highlighted issues about the overtime rule. “It’s an ever-changing compliance dilemma.” …