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Monday, September 24, 2012

An Employment Lawyer's Debate Questions for President Obama

This is the first in a series that I am doing along with a group of employment attorneys around the country. Management and employee side attorneys will be providing their own debate questions for the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates this week. The first candidate is President Barack Obama.

Here are some questions I’d ask the President at the debates if I had a chance:

The very first piece of legislation you signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, empowering women to recover wages lost to discrimination by extending the time period in which employees can file claims. You’ve also advocated for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have required employers to demonstrate that any salary differences between men and women doing the same work are not gender-related. Plus, you convened a National Equal Pay Task Force to ensure that existing equal pay laws are fully enforced. Why do you feel so strongly about the need for pay equity in America and what do you think about the Republican party’s strong opposition to your efforts toward pay equity?

Then I’d probably ask:

Your opponent wrote an editorial saying we should let the automobile industry go bankrupt rather than bail them out during the worst part of the recession. Do you think the bailout was worth it, and are you glad you saved over a million jobs and supported an industry that has added hundreds of thousands of new jobs when most industries are cutting workers?

I’d follow up with:

You’ve said that you believe people who work full time should not live in poverty. Before the Democrats took back Congress, the minimum wage had not changed in 10 years. Although Congress did raise the minimum wage during your administration, the minimum wage’s real purchasing power is still below what it was in 1968, and full time minimum wage workers are mostly below the poverty line. You’ve said you want to further raise the minimum wage, index it to inflation and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit. Why do you think it’s important to make sure that full-time workers can earn a living wage that allows them to raise their families and pay for basic needs such as food, transportation, and housing?

Then I’d ask:

You repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which limited gay and lesbian Americans’ right to serve in the military and be honest about their sexual orientation. You’ve also instructed the Justice Department to stop enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act, and you are in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as other couples. Why do you think it’s important to treat gays and lesbians with respect and to end discrimination against them, and what more will you do to ensure equality for all Americans?

I’d end with:

Most Americans probably think they’re entitled to some sick time off of work, yet three out of four low-wage workers have no paid sick leave. You’ve said you support efforts to guarantee workers seven days of paid sick leave per year. Why do you think it’s unfair that a single mom playing by the rules can get fired or lose wages because her child or she gets sick, and what do you plan to do to ensure paid sick leave for all American workers?

There are, of course, lots more questions I could ask. I think the choice between the candidates as far as workplace issues is crystal clear.

Here's another perspective, from Robin Shea, a management-side employment lawyer.

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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.