HR Management & Compliance

Legislative Proposals: Congress Considers Controversial Employment Measures

A number of bills that would significantly impact employers are pending in Washington. 

Here’s a rundown on the key legislation:

  • Family leave. Almost 20 different measures to change family leave rules have been introduced this year, reflecting the debate that rages on this issue. Some bills would expand family leave and others would make it more difficult for employees to take it. For example, S. 18 and H.R. 265 would broaden the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover employers with at least 25 employees instead of the current 50, provide matching funds for states to offer paid family leave programs such as unemployment compensation, and add 24 more hours of leave for parents to participate in their children’s school activities. H.R. 2287 would extend FMLA protections to domestic partners, in-laws, adult children, grandparents and siblings. At the other end of the spectrum, S. 489 and H.R. 2366 would narrow the definition of a serious health condition, restrict the use of intermittent leave and place the burden of designating FMLA leave on the employee rather than on the employer. S. 1249 would enable victims of domestic and sexual violence to take up to 30 days per year of unpaid leave to seek legal or medical assistance or counseling or to take actions to ensure their safety.


  • Wage and hour. S. 277 would increase the federal minimum wage from the current $5.15 per hour to $6.65 by Jan. 1, 2003. And H.R. 2070 would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to exempt from overtime employees in inside sales positions who have specialized or technical knowledge of products and services, make primarily repeat sales to existing customers and have discretion to offer a variety of products or services.


  • Employment discrimination. Several bills would expand federal anti-bias laws to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation (S. 1284 and H.R. 2692) and genetic information (S. 318 and H.R. 602). Plus, S. 77 and S. 8 would amend the Equal Pay Act, which prohibits sex-based wage discrimination, to add nonretaliation provisions and increase penalties for violations.


  • Benefits. H.R. 2269 would allow employers offering 401(k) plans to provide participants with investment advice if conflicts of interest are properly disclosed. The measure would protect employers from liability for advice financial advisers give to individual participants. S. 1305 and H.R. 2807 would help small- and medium-sized businesses offer employee benefitsïsuch as pensions and health insurance—they might not otherwise be able to afford, by permitting certified professional employer organizations to offer the benefits and collect federal employment taxes on behalf of their small-business customers. Other bills, S. 1383 and H.R. 2695, would clarify that payroll taxes should not be withheld when employees exercise stock options under incentive stock option or employee stock purchasing programs.


  • Patients’ bill of rights. H.R. 2563 would allow patients to sue insurers and employers who sponsor health plans for coverage decisions, with a cap of $1.5 million each on pain and suffering and punitive damages.


  • Arbitration. H.R. 2282 would make agreements to arbitrate employment disputes unenforceable unless both the employer and employee consent to arbitration after the dispute arises.


  • Telecommuting. H.R. 2597 would offer employers a $500 annual tax credit—doubled for small businesses—for each employee who telecommutes, plus a 10% credit for equipment costs.

We’ll keep you posted on the status of these and other employment-related measures as they wend their way through Congress.

Join us this fall in San Francisco for the California Employment Law Update conference, a 3-day event that will teach you everything you need to know about new laws and regulations, and your compliance obligations, for the year ahead—it’s one-stop shopping at its best.

State Updates Coming

In California, a number of employment-related bills have either been enacted or await the Oct. 14 deadline for Gov. Davis to veto or sign them into law. We’ll report on all the new state legislation in upcoming issues.


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