Congress to Deal With Payroll-Related Proposals Topped by Wage, Hour Issues

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By Michael Trimarchi

Congress returned April 13 to Capitol Hill to deal with much unfinished business, including proposed legislation on sick and medical leave, E-Verify, employees' schedules, wellness programs and compensation.

Paid sick leave. The Healthy Families Act (H.R 932, S. 497) would require employers with at least 15 employees to allow them to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave a year. The bill has been introduced in every Congress since 2004.

Actions: House, referred to the Education and the Workforce Committee; Senate, bill remains in Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Obama called on Congress to pass the legislation in his January State of the Union address.

Minimum wage. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the ranking member on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, have been working to gather support among Democrats and moderate Republicans for legislation to increase the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020.

The bill would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour in a series of steps. Such a measure also would phase out the $2.13 tipped minimum wage. Prospects for such a bill passing are remote, political experts said, especially given that a bill to increase the wage to $10.10 an hour stalled in the House and Senate last year.

Compensatory time. The Working Families Flexibility Act (H.R. 465, S. 233) would allow employers to offer workers compensatory time in lieu of overtime pay without violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Family Friendly and Workplace Flexibility Act (S. 803) would amend the FLSA to allow employers to offer comp time in lieu of overtime pay. The bill also would authorize flexible credit hour programs, in which an employee earns credit time by working extra hours in a particular day or week that can then be used to work fewer hours in the future.

Actions: House, sent H.R. 465 to the Committee on Education and the Workforce; Senate, S. 233 and S. 803 sent to the HELP Committee. The White House is not likely to favor measures that would erode workers' rights to earn overtime pay.

Flexible scheduling. The Flexibility for Working Families Act (H.R. 1450, S. 777) would require employers to consider worker requests for flexible scheduling arrangements by meeting with the worker and providing a written decision, including any grounds for denying the request.

Actions: House, sent to the Judiciary Committee; Senate, sent to the HELP Committee. The White House generally supports efforts to expand workers' rights to seek flexible scheduling arrangements.

Leave insurance. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (H.R. 1439, S. 786) would establish a national family and medical leave insurance program, funded by employer and worker contributions. The program would be based on those already in place in California, Rhode Island and New Jersey.

Actions: House, sent to the Committee on Ways and Means; Senate, sent to Finance Committee. Obama generally supports the measure.

Employment verification. The Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1147) would make the E-Verify electronic employment eligibility verification system mandatory for all U.S. employers within two years of enactment through a series of six-month increments, with agricultural employers given three years to comply.

The use of E-Verify for new hires would be mandatory, but employers would be allowed to use the system for current employees if done in a nondiscriminatory manner.

Actions: House, cleared the Judiciary Committee March 3; no companion legislation in the Senate. A date for floor consideration has not been set. President Barack Obama supports E-Verify.

Wellness programs. The Employee Wellness Programs Act (H.R. 1189, S. 620) would make clear that employers may offer financial incentives that reduce health insurance premiums for employees who participate in employer-sponsored wellness programs.

Actions: House, sent to Education and Workforce Committee; Senate, sent to Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. There are no imminent plans for the bill's markup. The Obama administration supports employer-sponsored wellness plans.

Paycheck fairness. The Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 1619, S. 862) would protect workers from retaliation for discussing or sharing pay information and require employers to justify disparities in pay.

Actions: House, sent to Committee on Education and the Workforce; Senate, sent to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The White House generally supports the bill.

Full-time definition. The Save American Workers Act (H.R. 30) and the Forty Hours Is Full Time Act (S. 30) would increase the threshold for full-time employment under the Affordable Care Act to 40 hours a week from 30 hours. 

Actions: House, approved H.R. 30; Senate, sent S. 30 to the Finance Committee. The White House has said it would to veto the measure to change the full-time threshold.

Affordable Care Act. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced a bill (S. 339) Feb. 2 to repeal the ACA within six months of the Senate bill's passage, during which time Congress and states would create an alternative health plan. The bill, which was introduced in the last Congress, has 47 Republican co-sponsors.

Action: The bill was placed on the Senate legislative calendar.

The House passed H.R. 596, which would repeal the ACA and restore provisions of law amended or repealed by the ACA as if it had not been enacted. This is the fourth time the House has passed a full-repeal bill.

Action: The bill was sent to the Senate.

Hiring of veterans. The Hire More Heroes Act (S. 12, H.R. 22) would allow employers to hire veterans who already have government-provided health insurance coverage without counting those workers toward the number needed to invoke the Affordable Care Act's health insurance mandate.

Actions: House, approved measure H.R. 22 in January; Senate, Finance Committee cleared S. 12, but floor vote not yet scheduled. The White House generally opposes legislation it views as undermining the ACA.

Earned-income tax credit. The measure (S. 686) would amend the Internal Revenue Code to block undocumented immigrants benefiting from the Obama administration's deferred action programs from claiming the earned income tax credit for prior years when they worked without authorization.

Actions: Senate, sent to the Finance Committee. Obama is unlikely to sign the bill. The Internal Revenue Service said taxpayers with Social Security numbers can claim the EITC for prior years when they did not have a number.

Separately, compensation and benefits departments await the release of Labor Department regulations to modernize and streamline the existing FLSA overtime regulations for executive, administrative and professional employees.

The rules were expected in November 2014 but now are scheduled to be released in spring 2015.

The department last updated the regulations as a part of its 2004 Fair Pay and Overtime Initiative, revising the white-collar exemption under the FLSA for employees whose duties are considered executive, administrative, outside sales, computer professional and professional.

Such workers earn a minimum weekly salary of $455, a minimum annual salary of $23,660 and are exempt from overtime pay.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Trimarchi in Washington at mtrimarchi@bna.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Allison Gatrone at agatrone@bna.com.