Monday, February 11, 2008

New Civil Rights Bill Hits Congress

A new bill introduced by Senator Ted Kennedy and Representative John Lewis aims to reverse or modify seven workplace-related decisions handed down by the United States Supreme Court over the past two decades. Entitled the Civil Rights Act of 2008 (S. 2554/H.R. 2159), the bill aims to "restore, reaffirm, and reconcile legal rights and remedies under civil rights statutes."

The Civil Rights Act of 2008 addresses a number of employment issues, including age and gender discrimination laws and improper use of federal funding. The seeks to restrict mandatory arbitration clauses, eliminate damage caps in gender and religious discrimination cases, reward successful plaintiffs with expert witness fees, and allow state employees to seek damages from their employers for age discrimination and Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") violations. The bill also contains a provision allowing undocumented workers to recover backpay for labor and employment law violations.

Upcoming State Holiday Schedule

CA, CT, IL, MO, NJ Lincoln's Birthday February 12

VA, WA, WV, WY Presidents' Day February 18

AL, AR, CA, CT, DC, IL, MS, MO, NV, NJ, NY, VT Washington's Birthday February 18

Friday, February 8, 2008

New Proposed FMLA Regulations

Department of Labor officials recently announced that they have proposed new regulations governing the Family and Medical Leave Act , the New York Times reports (Greenhouse, New York Times, 1/25). The federal law currently requires businesses with 50 or more workers to offer employees who have worked at the business for one year -- or 1,250 hours -- 12 weeks of unpaid leave. The law also requires that unpaid leave be available for serious health conditions, to care for a newly adopted child, or to care for a seriously ill spouse, child or parent.

Currently, employees can take two days off before requesting leave, but the proposed rule generally would require workers to call in to request leave before taking it, the Times reports. The department also is drafting regulations to put into effect changes that Congress approved earlier this month, including leave for the families of wounded veterans or leave for "any qualifying exigency" related to a family member's call-up to active duty or deployment, according to the Times (New York Times, 1/25). According to AP/, areas of the law likely to see changes include medical certification for FMLA leave, unscheduled intermittent leave for people claiming chronic health conditions, and employee awareness of their rights under the law.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

New DOL Wellness Guidelines

In December, the US Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration issued guidelines to its national and regional offices (Field Assistance Bulletin 2007-04) on "supplemental coverage," a form of health insurance covering co-pays and deductibles in regular insurance. Supplemental coverage is generally used to fill such gaps in either Medicare or Tricare, the health-care plan for current and retired military members. But in recent years, some employers have incorporated a form of supplemental insurance into their wellness programs.

Last July, federal agencies finalized rules granting some exceptions from HIPAA to certain wellness programs. Under the rules, employers can offer financial incentives of as much as 20% of the cost of covering an employee. Popular are discounts to nonsmokers or contributions toward insurance premiums for workers who complete health-risk assessments or have their blood pressure checked.
The new Field Assistance Bulletin establishes an enforcement safe harbor under which supplemental health insurance will be considered excepted benefits for purposes of the health reform provisions in Part 7 of ERISA. Similar supplemental coverage that does not meet the standards for the safe harbor may be subject to enforcement actions by the department.

To fall within the safe harbor, to be similar supplemental coverage, a policy, certificate, or contract of insurance must meet the standards in four criteria detailed in the safe harbor: (1) independent of primary coverage, (2) supplemental for gaps in primary coverage, (3) supplemental in value of coverage, and (4) similar to Medicare supplemental coverage. This guidance has been coordinated with the Departments of Treasury, and Health and Human Services.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

EEOC Bulletin Effects Those 65 and Over

An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling from last month allows employers to treat younger and older retirees differently without fear of being sued for age discrimination. It permits companies to maintain or spend more on benefits for younger retirees who aren't eligible for Medicare while reducing or eliminating benefits for older retirees. The EEOC says employers would be more likely to drop health care coverage for all retirees if they had to spend the same amount on insurance for both groups.

The AARP has asked for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the EEOC lacks authority to issue the regulation. The senior group argues that the regulation is discriminatory and shifts the burden of cost to older retirees.

A copy of the EEOC's Q&A on the ruling can be found at

Friday, February 1, 2008

December Unemployment Rises

From the Bureau of Labor Statisticsof the U.S. Department of Labor :

The unemployment rate rose to 5.0 percent in December, while nonfarm payroll employment was essentially unchanged (+18,000). Job growth in several service-providing industries, including professional and technical services, health care, and food services, was largely offset by job losses in construction and manufacturing.

Average hourly earnings rose by 7 cents, or 0.4 percent.

The number of unemployed persons increased by 474,000 to 7.7 million in December and the unemployment rate rose by 0.3 percentage point to 5.0 percent. A year earlier, the number of unemployed persons was 6.8 million, and the jobless rate was 4.4 percent.

In December, unemployment rates rose for several major worker groups--adult men (to 4.4 percent), adult women (4.4 percent), whites (4.4 percent), and Hispanics (6.3 percent). The unemployment rates for teenagers (17.1 percent) and blacks (9.0 percent) were little changed. The unemployment rate for Asians was 3.7 percent, not seasonally adjusted. Most major worker groups experienced increases in their jobless rates over the year.

Both total employment, at 146.2 million, and the employment-population ratio, at 62.7percent, decreased in December following increases in November. Total employment was essentially unchanged over the year, while the employment-population ratio declined by 0.7 percentage point over the same period. The civilian labor force was essentially unchanged in December at 153.9 million. The labor force participation rate, at 66.0 percent, was unchanged over the month, but was 0.4 percentage point lower than a year earlier.

The number of persons who worked part time for economic reasons, at 4.7 million in December, was little changed over the month but was up by 456,000 over the year. This category includes persons who indicated that they would like to work full time but were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find full-time jobs.