Senate Republicans including Mike Lee (Utah), Marco Rubio (Florida), and Joni Ernst (Iowa) are talking up a new proposal from the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative economic policy shop, to establish a mechanism for US parents to access paid leave without creating additional costs for their employers by deferring their Social Security benefits in retirement, the Hill reports:
According to IWF’s six-page proposal, parents could take up to 12 weeks and receive on average 45 percent of their pay in a Social Security parental benefit that’s calculated using the same formula as Social Security disability benefits. The IWF estimates the average wage worker would receive $1,175 per month.
Lee said lawmakers are trying to figure out how to structure benefits so they are delivered to families when they need them, how the federal law should interact with state paid leave laws and how to keep the law from hastening the Social Security Trust Fund’s 2034 insolvency date.
Several House Democrats released statements criticizing the proposal, calling it “woefully insufficient” and arguing that working Americans should not have to forgo Social Security benefits to spend time with their newborn children. Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro also insisted that “any paid leave plan that reflects the needs of working people and families must address the need to deal with a personal or family member’s serious illness.”
The US is the only industrialized nation and one of only three countries in the world not to mandate paid time off for new parents, though the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees mothers the right to unpaid leave during pregnancy and after childbirth. Many US employers, including the 20 largest private employers, offer some amount of paid parental leave, but millions of Americans lack access to this benefit.
One of the most widely disliked provisions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act is the 40 percent excise tax it imposed on health insurance plans costing more than $10,200 for individuals or $27,500 for families. The so-called “Cadillac tax” was originally set to become effective this year, but its implementation date was later pushed back to 2020. A Republican plan to repeal and replace the ACA, which ultimately failed in Congress last year, had proposed to delay the tax until 2025, although employers have been pushing for its total repeal.
The major tax reform bill passed by Congress last month did not touch the Cadillac tax, but a resolution to restore funding to the federal government this week after legislative gridlock led to a government shutdown included a further delay in its implementation, SHRM reports:
Both political parties supported the provision to postpone the so-called Cadillac tax from taking effect until 2022, instead of in 2020—as did the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). The stopgap funding bill also amends other tax provisions that were part of the Affordable Care Act, such delaying the medical device tax—a 2.3 percent tax on the sale of certain devices—until 2020. …
Earlier this month the US Department of Labor announced that it was revising its test for determining whether interns count as employees entitled to protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act, citing recent federal court rulings that rejected the previous test:
The Department of Labor today clarified that going forward, the Department will conform to these appellate court rulings by using the same “primary beneficiary” test that these courts use to determine whether interns are employees under the FLSA. The Wage and Hour Division will update its enforcement policies to align with recent case law, eliminate unnecessary confusion among the regulated community, and provide the Division’s investigators with increased flexibility to holistically analyze internships on a case-by-case basis.
The department has issued a fact sheet explaining the standard it will enforce going forward, which is more flexible than the previous test and is based on the rubric the courts have used to judge who is the “primary beneficiary” of the internship and the “economic reality” on which it is based:
The US Department of Labor this week announced a proposed change to regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act concerning tipped employees and employers’ right to demand that they pool their tips. The proposed new rule, according to the department’s press release, “applies where employers pay a full minimum wage and do not take a tip credit and allows sharing tips through a tip pool with employees who do not traditionally receive direct tips–such as restaurant cooks and dish washers.”
Notice of the proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, and will be available for public comment for 30 days. If enacted, the rule change would benefit restaurants, which have come under increasing pressure to pay their tipped employees the standard minimum wage and thus forego the tip credit, making more of them subject to these regulations, Lisa Nagele-Piazza explains at SHRM:
“Restaurants and other food service providers should welcome these proposed changes,” said Kathleen Anderson, an attorney with Barnes & Thornburg in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Columbus, Ohio. “Think about it. The restaurant experience is created by the combined efforts of the front and back of the house. Tip sharing allows those in the back of the house to be rewarded for good service.” …
Current federal law in the US does not require organizations to grant employees any paid time off, be that vacation, family leave, or sick days. Most companies provide some kind of paid leave as part of their rewards policies in order to be competitive in the talent market, but advocates for federal mandate say the workers who need paid leave the most (low-income, single working mothers, for example) are least likely to get it unless their employers face some regulatory pressure. Demand for this protection has led to the emergence of paid family and medical leave mandates at the state and local level.
Representative Mimi Walters, a Republican from California, is backing a bill that would encourage companies to provide two to three weeks of paid time off by exempting them from stricter state and local mandates as long as they comply with the federal policy. As Bloomberg’s Jeff Green and Rebecca Greenfield explain, the bill envisions a national paid time off policy combining vacation, sick days, and other forms of leave into one category, and legislating a federal standard for businesses to meet; liability under tougher state and local rules would apply only to businesses that failed to meet that standard.
Walters’s bill, which is supported by SHRM and other major business groups, is similar in this regard to the proposal issued by the HR Policy Association earlier this year calling on the federal government to enact a national standard for paid parental leave—not to force compliance on their members, but again to protect them against the patchwork of local regulations that are popping up. States including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, as well as major cities like New York and San Francisco, have instituted their own sick leave or parental leave requirements in recent years. Businesses are now beginning to see a less restrictive federal policy as a better solution than no policy at all.
Another reason businesses like the bill (whose chances of actually becoming law are currently uncertain) is that unlike most of these local mandates, the proposed federal policy would allow employers to deny requests for time off. “Opponents say that’s a cruiser-sized loophole,” Green and Greenfield write:
On top of a shortage of skilled talent, the disparity between the salaries on offer at Silicon Valley tech giants and smaller, less cash-flush companies is seen as a major reason why many organizations are having a hard time filling IT roles, as well as a driver of corporate inequality. But private companies are not the only ones losing out in the competition with big tech for scarce talent; the US government is also having trouble attracting tech workers, particularly in the critical area of cybersecurity.
This problem is not limited to government: A 2015 CareerBuilder study found that roughly 70 percent of job openings in IT are going unfilled, and in cybersecurity, that figure is at 89 percent. But the problem is exacerbated by government employers’ smaller budgets, less desirable locations, and poor reputations for culture. This is particularly troubling because of the upward trajectory of cybersecurity problems reported by federal agencies. According to the Office of Management and Budget, over 30,000 “cyber incidents” were reported at federal agencies in the 2016 fiscal year.
The main reason the federal government has trouble filling cybersecurity roles is that it doesn’t pay nearly as much as private companies do, a recent report from The Wall Street Journal points out. Private sector pay for chief information security officers ranges from $137,000 to $346,000 per year with a median of $224,000. By comparison, the recent White House posting for the role of Federal Chief Information Security Officer listed a range going up to just $185,100. Matt Comyns, a managing partner of executive search firm Caldwell Partners, told the Journal that the high end of private sector roles are paying up to $2 million total and that CISOs in government who move to private companies have come close to quintupling their compensation packages.
In an unusual step, lawyers from the US Department of Justice submitted an amicus brief in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on Wednesday opposing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s position that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans sex discrimination, also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. BuzzFeed’s Dominic Holden reported on the brief Wednesday evening, noting that the Justice Department, which does not normally intervene in private employment disputes, is not a party in the case:
“The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination,” says the Justice Department’s brief. “It does not, as has been settled for decades. Any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts.”
The Justice Department also contends that Title VII only applies if men and women are treated unequally. “The essential element of sex discrimination under Title VII is that employees of one sex must be treated worse than similarly situated employees of the other sex, and sexual orientation discrimination simply does not have that effect,” the brief says.
The brief was submitted in the case of Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor who sued his former employer in 2010, claiming he had been fired after he told a customer he was gay and she complained. Zarda died in a skydiving accident after filing the lawsuit, but his estate has continued to pursue it. A three-judge panel from the Second Circuit had thrown out Zarda’s claim in April, citing a 2000 ruling in which the court had said Title VII did not apply to LGBT workers, but the full court agreed to hear the case in May.