Throughout this week, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) will host a series of live Web chats to discuss the regulatory agendas of the various federal agencies. The chats, which will run through Wednesday, will include details of the proposed regulatory activities of the Wage and Hour Division (WHD), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), and other agencies.
Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS)
The chats kicked off this morning with a brief session hosted by the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), which is the department that enforces the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA). The LMRDA establishes reporting and record-keeping requirements for employers and labor relations consultants, with the intention of ensuring that workers may make informed decisions with regard to their rights to organize and bargain collectively.
The OLMS Web chat was brief, but some time was spent covering a proposed regulatory change that could result in increased reporting requirements for employers. Currently, the LMRDA requires employers and labor relations consultants to disclose certain expenditures and arrangements through which the employer hires consultants, generally “union avoidance” consultants, to persuade employees about their labor rights or provide the employer with information concerning union and/or employee activity in connection with a labor dispute. Employers that merely seek “advice” from these consultants are currently not required to file these reports.
However, the OLMS is concerned that this “advice exemption” is overly broad and intends to narrow its interpretation. The proposed regulations, which are still in development, would result in more employers and consultants being required to report details of union avoidance consultations. The OLMS anticipates that proposed rules will be ready for public comment in November 2010.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
The next chat session was hosted by OSHA. One of the first points raised during the session was that the OSHA agenda had been pared back because of limited resources in the department. In spite of this, the remaining plans are still ambitious — 24 regulatory projects, including two high-priority actions, and intentions to move forward aggressively on each of these proposals.
Because of the previously mentioned resource restraints, OSHA plans to increase enforcement of existing regulations in some areas, as opposed to revisiting and rewriting those standards. For example, at this time, OSHA plans to increase enforcement of ergonomic standards under the general duty clause rather than approach specific ergonomics regulations. In the meantime, significant attention will be given to modernizing the OSHA record-keeping systems, moving away from paper recording and toward electronic systems and reporting.
One of the two high-priority actions for OSHA is the “i2p2 standard,” which would require each employer to implement an injury and illness prevention program tailored to the actual hazards in its workplace. In other words, instead of waiting for an OSHA inspection or workplace incident before addressing workplace hazards, employers would be required to create and implement a proactive plan.
The i2p2 standard won’t be a substitute for other OSHA standards but rather will shift the burden and responsibility of identifying individual workplace hazards to the employer. That means it will be the employer’s responsibility to identify all hazards in its workplace, and then the actions taken to control those hazards will be governed by existing OSHA standards and the general duty clause.
OSHA recognizes that this proposal is a major paradigm shift for the department and that there are a number of issues and questions that would need to be worked out regarding this type of standard — for example, working with employers that already have extensive safety and health programs implemented. A series of stakeholder meetings will be held across the country to solicit input from all interested parties.
Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA)
The final chat session of the day was hosted by the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA). Though the topic of chief concern for most from the EBSA was the planned implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, there simply had not been enough time since passage of the health care reform law for the agency to give detailed agenda items or responses to the numerous questions about health reform regulations. However, we do know that the relevant agencies are focusing first on the provisions of the health reform that take effect on plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010, and that regulations will be issued on an ongoing basis.
Tuesday, the OFCCP will host a Web chat, and we will provide coverage of the session.
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