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Thursday, July 21, 2022

Some Cool New Laws Pending In Congress That Will Help Employees If Passed

 It isn't all bad news out there. Some bills pending in Congress look hopeful for employees. Of course, they probably won't get through the deadlocked Senate, but hey, let's be optimistic. If you think these bills should become law, call your Senators and members of Congress.

Here are some of the pro-worker bills pending and the descriptions their sponsors have given them:

S.505 - Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act - This bill prohibits a predispute arbitration agreement from being valid or enforceable if it requires arbitration of an employment, consumer, antitrust, or civil rights dispute.

S.3641 - Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights Act - This bill modifies various employment, leave, and pension rules with respect to part-time workers. Specifically, the bill removes the requirement that employees work a minimum number of hours during the preceding 12-month period before becoming eligible for family and medical leave.

The bill also sets the maximum length of service on which employers may condition the eligibility of part-time employees for a qualified pension plan (e.g., 401(k) retirement plan). Except as required by an applicable collective bargaining agreement, such service requirement may be no longer than two consecutive 12-month periods of at least 500 hours of service for part-time employees who have reached the age of 21 by the end of such period.

The bill further prohibits employers of more than 15 employees from setting disparate terms of employment or working conditions for part-time employees, including with respect to compensation, notice of work hours, and promotion opportunities. Additionally, the bill requires such employers to offer available, qualified part-time employees additional work hours before hiring new employees for such hours. Among other enforcement methods, employers must maintain three years of records for offers of additional hours and employee responses to such offers. The bill also provides a private right of action for employees to enforce the nondiscrimination requirements of this bill.

S.3642 - Schedules That Work Act - This bill provides employees with the right to request changes to their work schedules related to the number of hours they are required to work or be on call, the location of the work, the amount of notification about work schedule assignments, and fluctuations in work hours.

Employers must negotiate in good faith with employees who make such requests and comply with certain work schedule notice and split shift pay requirements for retail, food service, cleaning, hospitality, or warehouse employees.

H.R.6762 - Special Inspector General for Law Enforcement Act - there is no description by the sponsor yet, but this would provide whistleblower protections for law enforcement employees who report wrongdoing by colleagues, ending the blue wall of silence.

H.R.7489 - Time Off to Vote Act - This bill requires an employer, upon the request of an employee, to provide the employee with a minimum of two consecutive hours of paid leave in order to vote in a federal election.

The employer may determine the two-hour period, excluding any lunch break or other break.

Taking such leave shall not result in the employee losing accrued employment benefits.

The bill makes it unlawful for an employer to interfere with the right to take such leave or for an employer to discriminate against an employee for taking such leave. Further, the bill makes it unlawful for any employer to retaliate against an employee for (1) opposing any practice made unlawful by this bill; (2) filing a charge, or instituting or causing to be instituted any proceeding, under or related to this bill; or (3) testifying or preparing to testify in an inquiry or proceeding relating to such leave.

The bill specifies penalties for employers who violate these provisions.

H.R.2243 - Fair Pay Act of 2021 - This bill requires employers to provide equal pay to employees for comparable or equivalent work.

Specifically, employers may not discriminate against employees on the basis of sex, race, or national origin with respect to payment of wages or other conditions of employment for jobs that, although dissimilar, the requirements of which are equivalent, when viewed as a composite of skills, effort, responsibility, and working conditions. However, employers may pay different wages in accordance with seniority systems, merit systems, systems that measure earnings by quantity or quality of production, or factors that the employer demonstrates are reasonably job-related, or further legitimate business interests. The bill allows compensatory or punitive damages for violations of this prohibition.

The bill prohibits an employer from (1) discriminating against any individual who opposes any act or practice made illegal by this bill or for assisting in an investigation, or (2) discharging or discriminating against any employee who inquires about or discusses another employee's wages.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must assist employers, labor organizations, and the general public in implementing these provisions.

S.2390 - Support Through Loss Act - This bill provides employees with 24 hours of paid leave time each year for an absence resulting from a pregnancy loss or other specified circumstance related to pregnancy, fertility, or an unsuccessful assisted reproductive procedure or adoption match.

Employers must notify each employee about the availability of this paid leave and may not discriminate or discharge an employee for exercising or attempting to exercise the right to such paid leave.

The bill provides for enforcement of this requirement by the Department of Labor and through civil action brought by an employee or individual.

Further, the bill requires specified federal agencies to conduct research and publish information about pregnancy loss and related evidence-based treatment options.

H.R.1065 - Pregnant Workers Fairness Act - This bill prohibits employment practices that discriminate against making reasonable accommodations for qualified employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. A qualified employee is an employee or applicant who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the position, with specified exceptions.

Specifically, the bill declares that it is an unlawful employment practice tofail to make reasonable accommodations to known limitations of such employees unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on an entity's business operation;
require a qualified employee affected by such condition to accept an accommodation other than any reasonable accommodation arrived at through an interactive process;
deny employment opportunities based on the need of the entity to make such reasonable accommodations to a qualified employee;
require such employees to take paid or unpaid leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided; or
take adverse action in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment against a qualified employee requesting or using such reasonable accommodations.

The bill sets forth enforcement procedures and remedies that cover different types of employees in relation to such unlawful employment practices.

H.R.3610 - Flexibility for Working Families Act - This bill allows an employee to request from an employer a temporary or permanent change in the terms or conditions of the employee's employment if the request relates to (1) the number of hours the employee is required to work, (2) the times when the employee is required to work or be on call for work, (3) where the employee is required to work, or (4) the amount of notification the employee receives of work schedule assignments. The bill sets forth certain employer duties with respect to such requests.

The bill prohibits an employer from interfering with any rights provided to an employee under this bill. An employee may file a complaint with the Department of Labor for any violations of such rights. Labor shall investigate and attempt to resolve such complaints and may issue orders making determinations and assessing civil penalties or awarding relief for alleged violations. The bill provides for judicial review of such orders, including in federal courts of appeal.

Labor and certain federal agencies and offices shall provide information and technical assistance to employers, labor organizations, and the general public regarding compliance with this bill.

The Wage and Hour Division of Labor must issue guidance on compliance with providing a flexible work environment through changes in employee terms and conditions of employment as provided in this bill.

The requirements of this bill are applicable to certain classes of employees, including employees of the Government Accountability Office and the Library of Congress.The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must provide examples of reasonable accommodations that shall be provided to affected employees unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so would impose an undue hardship.

The bill prohibits state immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution from an action for a violation of this bill.

H.R.842 - Protecting the Right to Organize Act - This bill expands various labor protections related to employees' rights to organize and collectively bargain in the workplace.

Among other things, it (1) revises the definitions of employee, supervisor, and employer to broaden the scope of individuals covered by the fair labor standards; (2) permits labor organizations to encourage participation of union members in strikes initiated by employees represented by a different labor organization (i.e., secondary strikes); and (3) prohibits employers from bringing claims against unions that conduct such secondary strikes.

The bill also allows collective bargaining agreements to require all employees represented by the bargaining unit to contribute fees to the labor organization for the cost of such representation, notwithstanding a state law to the contrary; and expands unfair labor practices to include prohibitions against replacement of, or discrimination against, workers who participate in strikes.

The bill makes it an unfair labor practice to require or coerce employees to attend employer meetings designed to discourage union membership and prohibits employers from entering into agreements with employees under which employees waive the right to pursue or a join collective or class-action litigation.

The bill further prohibits employers from taking adverse actions against an employee, including employees with management responsibilities, in response to that employee participating in protected activities related to the enforcement of the prohibitions against unfair labor practices (i.e., whistleblower protections). Such protected activities includeproviding information about a potential violation to an enforcement agency,
participating in an enforcement proceeding,
initiating a proceeding concerning an alleged violation or assisting in such a proceeding, or
refusing to participate in an activity the employee reasonably believes is a violation of labor laws.

Finally, the bill addresses the procedures for union representation elections, provides employees with the ability to vote in such elections remotely by telephone or the internet, modifies the protections against unfair labor practices that result in serious economic harm, and establishes penalties and permits injunctive relief against entities that fail to comply with National Labor Relations Board orders.

This is only a sampling of pro-employee laws that could be passed and that are pending right now. It isn't that we don't know how to protect employees. It's that we don't. Talk to your elected officials about these pro-employee laws, and vote well in November and beyond.

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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.