The Intersection of a New Normal and a New Administration
Welcome to 2021, a year of new normalcies. No, the coronavirus pandemic has not ended and yes, our country has a new president…so what happens next? While companies continue to adjust to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, they now need to prepare for new changes resulting from a new administration.
It is better to stay informed so you are not blindsided by any changes. In this article, you will read some of the policies the Biden Administration supports and those they plan on adjusting. Some of these changes are related to the COVID-19 pandemic, while others deal with workplace policies and regulations in general.
Workplace Health and Safety
When it comes to health and safety in the workplace, policy changes address both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19-related matters. From the beginning of the pandemic last year up until December 24, 2020, there were almost 300 citations given by OSHA after COVID-19 inspections were completed onsite at workplaces across the country. Penalties from these citations resulted in almost $3.9 million paid in fines. Now with the Biden Administration in charge, the number of citations and penalties is expected to greatly increase. In fact, on January 21, President Biden signed an executive order aimed at increasing COVID-19 workplace safety measures at the federal level, giving OSHA two weeks to issue new COVID-19 guidance.
When it comes to employees calling out of work sick, as an employer, you do have the right to ask employees whether or not they are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19. All information between the sick employee and the employer must, of course, remain confidential. If an employee has been absent from work without explanation, as an employer, you have the right to ask why they have not been present. Employers may also require medical proof in order for an employee to return to work.
Aside from guidance regarding the coronavirus, general workplace safety regulations are also expected to change. It is possible that the workplace safety rule from the Obama era will come back into play. In this rule, employers with 250 or more employees were required to submit an annual report of work-related injuries to OSHA in order to be made public information. Penalties regarding general workplace safety are also going to increase.
In September 2020, President Trump issued an order against certain diversity training claiming that it was based on “critical race theory” and that the training was “teaching people to hate our country.” President Biden is a big supporter of diversity and inclusion and plans to promote training programs across the country. President Biden already reversed President Trump’s ban on diversity training that restricted the federal government from using training that examined topics such as systematic racism, white privilege, and more race and gender bias issues.
Within his first 100 days in office, President Biden plans to pass the Equality Act, which would revise the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Employers should start reviewing their handbook policies and hiring protocols to ensure compliance. President Biden did already pass an Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation that states, “Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love.”
FLSA Time and Pay legislation
It is predicted that the Biden Administration will bring tighter FLSA regulations. When it comes to minimum wage, the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, which was introduced to Congress this week, proposes increasing the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25, to $9.50 in 2021. In the next four years, the minimum wage would increase incrementally with a goal of reaching a $15 mandated minimum wage across the country by 2025. President Biden also hopes to get rid of “tipped” workers and mandate that they make the same as all other minimum wage workers.
Pay equity is another focus of the new administration. President Biden is in support of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which addresses wage discrimination based on sex. This act is supposed to help close the gender pay gap. It is also predicted that due to the coronavirus, the gender pay gap may actually increase. This is due to an assumption that male workers will be more likely to return to work in person than females, and in-office employees are expected to receive higher pay than those who remain virtual.
Effective January 1st, 2020, the exempt salary threshold was raised from $23,000 per year to $35,568 per year. The Biden Administration is said to, once again, raise this threshold. The threshold President Biden proposes will probably be lower than the threshold formerly proposed by President Obama.
There are currently two benefits that come to mind when thinking about changes the Biden Administration will push to change. One is a change to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that would provide 12 weeks of paid (currently it’s unpaid) job-protected leave for workers or family members of workers who have a serious health condition. And businesses of all sizes would be required to provide this leave to employees, not just those with 50 or more employees, as the regulation currently stipulates.
Another new benefit is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The goal of this act is to eliminate discrimination as well as promote women’s health and economic security. The act is supposed to ensure reasonable workplace accommodations for workers whose ability to perform the functions of a job is limited by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.
As the Biden Administration begins to enforce new regulations, our team of experienced HR Business Partners at EnformHR is here to help your business stay compliant, whether that is updating your policies, conducting training, or answering your questions. If you need guidance, please do not hesitate to contact us.