Congress: What a Brief Session Has in Store for Employee Legislation

This is the last opportunity for Congress to hone in on controversial employee legislation before the dash to re-election begins.  

After a seven-week summer recess, Congress returned Tuesday for a less than four-week session. While Zika funding and avoiding a government shutdown are top priority, three pivotal workplace rulings could also make appearances during this short session.

The ‘Blacklisting’ Rule

A few weeks ago, the Department of Labor released their ruling to implement President Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order. The order requires businesses who apply for federal contracts to report any workplace violations. Furthermore, it mandates agencies to take these violations into consideration when choosing a winning bid. The order aims to promote a more compliant and safer work community for contracted workers.

Despite its approval, the ‘blacklisting’ rule has some opposition, many arguing the order allows government agencies to take advantage of ‘blacklisting’ certain contractors to favor others.

Both the Senate and House have already passed legislation that includes an exemption from the order for defense contractors, who account for the most government contracts each year. The exemptions are included in two National Defense Authorization Act bills, which have been law for the past 54 years and require yearly renewal. They are considered must-pass bills and expect further negotiation regarding the mentioned exemption terms this year. Currently, the legislation still awaits Obama’s signature.

While it is unlikely that Obama will sign off on either NDAA, many expect the act will be pushed aside until after the re-election. Of course, no one knows how party lines will fall in the newly elected House and Senate, so the future of the ‘blacklisting’ rule is uncertain.  

The Overtime Rule

The DOL has been busy this year rolling out a number of pro-employee rules and fighting off waves of criticism. The most controversial ruling of 2016 was the DOL’s new overtime rule, which doubled the salary threshold requirement for hourly employees who receive overtime pay.

While the loudest critics are not trying to block the ruling completely, they are working to extend the date effective of the salary increase from immediate to a phase-in approach over three years. The order takes effect on December 1, 2016, so the time for any changes to the ruling is running out. And, like the ‘blacklisting’ rule, the results of this year’s election could greatly impact the level of support this movement receives from either party.  


Nationwide Fair Pay

The newest employee legislation to make its way to Congress is the fair pay bill. In an effort to close the wage gap, the members have drafted a bill that would prohibit employers from asking candidates about salary history.

The proposal mirrors a recent Massachusetts bill, which goes into effect January 1, 2018. It aims to provide fair pay for women and minorities, says Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, co-author of the bill. “Many carry lower salaries for their entire careers simply because of wages at previous jobs that were set unfairly,” she said. 

Fair pay was a hot topic at this year’s Republican and Democratic conventions with support lines as distinct as the parties’. Clearly, the November election will have significant impact on workplace legislation. As the political climate heats up, issues affecting employers and employees are left waiting in the wings. More to come on these three important rulings…and hopefully soon.  

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