The Obama Administration has addressed labor and employment issues aggressively over the past two years. The Department of Labor, under President Obama’s direction, has articulated its “Plan/Prevent/Protect” agenda and its focus on openness and transparency in labor practices. As a result of the steps taken by the Obama Administration in 2010, the new Republican-dominated Congress may have to decide a number of regulatory and legislative measures that will directly affect labor and employment law in 2011. The following is a list of proposed regulations and legislation that employers and their attorneys should watch this year:
Right to Know Under the FLSA (RIN: 1235-AA04): According to the DOL, this regulation was designed to “update the recordkeeping regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act in order to enhance the transparency and disclosure to workers.” This proposed regulation would require any business that claims employees are exempt from FLSA coverage to perform a classification analysis and provide the analysis to the covered employees. Employers would also be required to maintain records of the analysis for potential review by the DOL. The “Right To Know” amendment is set for proposed rulemaking in April 2011. The potential economic impact on private sector employers is serious in that the required analysis, whether performed in house or by an outside source, will be extremely expensive. Moreover, increased litigation under the FLSA is likely should the rule be implemented.
Injury and Illness Prevention Programs: As part of the DOL’s “Plan/Prevent/Protect” enforcement strategy, OSHA is seeking to establish a rule on Injury and Illness Prevention Programs, or the “I2P2” rule. The aim of the proposed rule will be to address all workplace hazards, an extreme broadening of OSHA’s typical standards which focus on specific hazards in the workplace. Some states such as California have already implemented this type of heightened standard. Employers should be concerned about the enforcement of the I2P2 standard, which may result in employer liability for failing to predict even the most rare or unlikely workplace accident.
Employer and Labor Relations Consultant Reporting under the LMRDA (RIN: 1245-AA03): This June, the DOL will seek to revise the section of the LMRDA that provides for an “advice exemption” to the reporting requirements for individuals and employers who attempt to influence workers’ decisions regarding union organizing or collective bargaining. The DOL’s position is that the current interpretation of the exemption is too broad. The concern for labor attorneys in particular is that the new rule will limit the exemption in such a way that several previously-exempt entities, including attorneys, may be required to report any labor advice provided or services performed in relation to so-called “Persuader Agreements.”
Employment Nondiscrimination Act: Now that the Obama Administration has secured the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” proponents of ENDA are likely to ramp up efforts to get a bill through Congress and on to President Obama. One version of the law prohibits discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity, while a more conservative version protects only against discrimination based on sexual orientation. President Obama has expressed his support for the broader version of the law. While the new Congress has not indicated whether it intends to take up the issue, the recent DADT repeal has placed this issue squarely at the forefront of voters’ minds and House and Senate members are likely to reopen the ENDA discussion at some point during the current term.