HR Administration

SHRM Work-flex Bill in the Spotlight

In the first press conference of #SHRM18, policy experts updated members of the press on what SHRM is doing in a number of public policy areas, from workplace flexibility to harassment and beyond.
SHRM 2018

SHRM 2018 is in Chicago.

One major lesson that the #MeToo movement has taught the human resources profession is that HR has a responsibility to address harassment in workplace policy level as well as in public policy. And sexual harassment isn’t the only policy issue that HR is heavily involved in.

The Society for Human Resource Management, whose annual conference runs in Chicago from June 17-20, held its annual press conference to update on several issues, including overtime, immigration, harassment, talent development and the Workflex in the 21st Century Act, a SHRM-developed legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Mimi Walters, R-California, that voluntarily allows employers to offer employees a qualified flexible work arrangement plan.

SHRM supports the bill for several reasons, said Lisa Horn, director of congressional affairs and leader of SHRM’s Workplace Flexibility Initiative. Amid the environment of “rigid, one-size-fits-all rules about sick leave,” many states and localities are creating their own leave regulations, and employers find themselves in a conundrum trying to navigate this landscape. The bill would aid employers here since because its rules pre-empt state and local paid leave and work-flex laws.

“We believe that it is truly innovative,” Horn said about the Workflex Act, which would allow both part-time and full-time employees at least one flexible work option.

One journalist at the press conference raised concerns that employers could opt in to the leave rules in the Workflex Act in order to offer less generous leave than that offered on a state or local level.

“It would never be less generous than what the state offers,” said Mike Aitken, vice president of government affairs at SHRM. Also, he added, almost all localities have regulations that are also less generous than those in the Workflex Act.

One question was how non-exempt employees would fare under this bill versus exempt employees. There are many hourly, non-exempt employees who are not eligible for benefits and who increasingly have to take on a dual caregiver role, both taking care of their children and aging parents. How could a company provide adequate flexibility for these employees in, for example, a manufacturing or retail environment in which it’s more difficult to offer flexibility?

The purpose of the bill is to provide flexible options for employers depending on what their workforce looks like, Aitken said. It would give employers of any size and in any industry the leeway to create flexible plans that work for their specific employee population.

Horn also touched upon major influences that are impacting workplace public policy. These four influences are coming together to create an environment in which it’s important for workplace organizations like SHRM to get involved.

First of all, major workplace policy laws — like the Fair Labor Standards Act, which was enacted in 1938 — are outdated and don’t reflect modern times. Employers and employees now have different needs that should be addressed appropriately.

Next, states and localities are increasingly stepping in to create their own rules and regulations on workplace issues, for example the paid leave laws that nine states — Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. This creates confusion for employers.

Also, there has been an increase of non-state actors, which are trying to solve major social issues. For example, companies may receive outside pressure to participate in corporate social responsibility. In the health care space, companies such as Amazon and Goldman Sachs are trying to get involved in order to make changes that the government hasn’t.

Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below, via twitter at @andie_burjek, or email editors@workforce.com.

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