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Friday, September 28, 2012

Employment Lawyers Want to Know: Debate Questions for the Candidates

I've shared my questions for the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates this week. Four of my fellow employment lawyers did the same thing, and I thought I'd give you some of the highlights.

Questions for President Obama

Eric Meyer asked:

Protection of women's rights in the workplace seems to have been a priority for you since taking office. In 2009, you signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which effects the statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit, into law. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, includes workplace breastfeeding protections.

Should you win reelection, what further changes would you make to workplace laws?

Jon Hyman wanted to know:

Four years ago, you campaigned on a promise to help working families. You promised to expand the FMLA to cover smaller employers, and promised that employers would be required to provide paid sick days to all employees. Yet, four years later, your track record on these issues is spotty at best. The only accomplishment to which you can point in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. What can you say to working families to earn their trust that the next four years will be different?

Robin Shea
We already have Title VII and the Equal Pay Act, both of which give remedies to women if they're discriminated against with respect to compensation, as well as your own Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. (Title VII and the Ledbetter Act apply to pay discrimination based on race, national origin, etc., as well.) An expansion of the existing law is likely to make employers more vulnerable to lawsuits and class action settlement demands in an already bad economy. Given that, what evidence do you have that any significant part of the current sex-based disparity in pay is caused by discrimination against women, as opposed to voluntary work-life choices made by women and men? In light of studies showing that the so-called "gender pay gap" almost disappears when one controls for voluntary choices, why is this legislation necessary and couldn't it actually have the perverse effect of limiting opportunities for women?

Daniel Schwartz asked several questions, including:

As President, you have barred discrimination in your administration on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Given your actions in your administration, why has there been no progress in Congress on passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a proposed bill that would bar employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation? Moreover, do you support that bill anymore? Your campaign website has no reference to that bill.

Questions for Mitt Romney

Daniel Schwartz asked several questions, including:
On your campaign website,you state that the “first step in improving labor policy will be to ensure that our labor laws create a stable and level playing field on which businesses can operate. As they hire, businesses should not have to worry that a politicized federal agency will rewrite the rules of the employment game without warning and without regard for the law.” Yet, the NLRB is — by its nature — a political agency that shifts its agenda depending on who the President is. Under George W. Bush, it became more pro-business and under Obama, it became more pro-union. Are you suggesting that you would try to de-politicize the NLRB? If so, how? And if not, aren’t the changes you propose simply adding to the political nature of the NLRB?

Eric Meyer asked:

As you know, the Family Medical and Leave Act provides job-security protections for qualifying employees with serious health conditions, loved ones with serious health conditions, or who need time off to care for a newborn. Presently pending in Congress are bills to expand the scope of the FMLA. For example, the Domestic Violence Leave Act would provide leave for workers to address domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking and their effects. The Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act would amend the FMLA to permit leave to care for a same-sex spouse, domestic partner, parent-in-law, adult child, sibling, grandchild, or grandparent who has a serious health condition.

These efforts would broaden the law. But what if you had the power to repeal the FMLA altogether. Would you do it? And why?

Robin Shea asked:

Actually, several related questions: Do you see the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, both endorsed by President Obama and the Democratic Party, as hindrances to your party's goals of reining in government regulation and restoring predictability to employers? In the same vein, do you support repeal or scaling back of any of the employment legislation enacted during the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, such the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act or the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act? How, if at all, do you intend to stop the encroachment of the federal government into the non-union employment relationship?

Jon Hyman wanted to know:
You are on record opposing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would make it illegal under federal law for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Yet, you have also publicly stated that you support anti-discrimination and equal rights for all.

Which is it? Are you in favor of equal rights for all, or you do believe that it permissible for employers to deny rights to individuals based on their sexual orientation or their gender identity? And, if the Employment Non-Discrimination Act came across your desk in the Oval Office, would you sign it or veto it?

Questions for Vice President Biden

Robin Shea
wanted to know:

Do you see any inherent conflict between the ENDA (assuming it is interpreted this way) and the rights under Title VII of employees to exercise and express their religious beliefs without discrimination, and to religious accommodation? If not, why not? If so, how do you propose to enforce the ENDA while at the same time protecting employees whose religious beliefs may not be completely aligned with the ENDA?

Daniel Schwartz
asked two questions, including:

Why do you support the Paycheck Fairness Act? And why is that bill needed in light of all the other laws already on the books preventing pay discrimination, including the Equal Pay Act?

Eric Meyer asked:
The White House touts the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act as the first piece of legislation -- employment-law or otherwise -- signed into law during President Obama's first term. The President touts fair pay and equal rights, but there hasn't been a second significant employment law passed yet.

Jon Hyman wanted to know:

Mr. Vice President, Governor Romney has accused your administration of supporting a partisan, pro union National Labor Relations Board. Historically, you have been outspoken of your support of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would provide employees the right to form a labor union without the benefit of a secret ballot election. At a Labor Day rally in Detroit earlier this month, you publicly stated that organized labor is one of the reasons why American is recovering. The American business community would not-so-respectfully disagree with you, and believe that activist federal agencies and labor unions are dangerously holding us back.

What would you say to business owners of all sizes who believe that your administration’s labor policies have stifled their ability to operate in today’s economic climate?

Why hasn't there been a second?

Questions for Paul Ryan

Jon Hyman wanted to know this:

You cite Ayn Rand as your inspiration for getting involved in politics. You even gave copies of her novel Atlas Shrugged as Christmas gifts to your staff. Among other philosophies, Atlas Shrugged endorses the belief that a society's best hope rests on adopting a system of pure laissez-faire government. Philosophically, you would seem opposed to government economic intrusions, yet you voted in favor of both the TARP bank bailout and the auto industry bailout. How do you reconcile your claim to be a fiscal conservative with your pro-regulatory Congressional votes on these two key federal bailouts?

Robin Shea asked:

Granted that a right to organize is implicit in right-to-work and secret ballot laws, and granted that the current National Labor Relations Board and public-sector unions have gone overboard during the current administration, do you believe generally in the right of private-sector workers to organize and collectively bargain? If not, do think that any alternatives are needed to ensure that private-sector workers are protected from exploitation and abuse? If so, what would those alternatives be?

Daniel Schwartz had a couple of questions, including:

Your record on the Employment Non-discrimination Act is, to be blunt, muddy at best. You appear to have once voted for passage of the Act, only after trying to prevent it from coming to the floor. Then in 2010, you are quoted as saying you would support the bill, but only if it didn’t include protections for transgendered Americans. Do you support this bill or a similar federal bill banning discrimination against employees based on his or her sexual orientation? If not, why?

Eric Meyer wanted to know:

Your campaign website claims (here) that "unions drive up costs and introduce rigidities that harm competitiveness and frustrate innovation." Both you and Mitt Romney have been critical of the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would have made it easier for employees to unionize. Indeed, you once received a 7% approval rating with the AFL-CIO.

Do you feel that unions today provide any benefit in America's workplace?

And, if given the opportunity, would you repeal the National Labor Relations Act altogether?

There you have it: some questions from management and employee-side employment lawyers for the candidates. If you go to the actual blogs, my fellow attorneys have provided some links and/or discussion of their questions. Now, if only we could get the candidates to answer . . .

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I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.