Many key workplace issues and that could ultimately affect Connecticut’s businesses and economy are in various stages of progress in Congress. Here’s a brief look at these proposals and their possible impact on employers’ labor practices, operations and costs in managing their workforces.

Unemployment compensation

Congress has enacted and proposed more extensions of unemployment benefit provisions through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (stimulus legislation). Together, these bills: extend benefits set to expire on Dec. 31 of this year for an additional 12-15 months through 2010; expand the use of federal emergency unemployment benefits for certain individuals; expand the shared work program for employers; and allow individuals in states with high unemployment rates, (including Connecticut) to be eligible for up to 99 total weeks of benefits.

Workers’ compensation-Impact of health care reform

America’s Affordable Health Choices Act Universal 24-Hour Health Coverage Amendment

Part of current national healthcare reform legislation, this amendment would create a system under which an employer’s group health plan, disability plan, and workers’ compensation program would be merged, integrated, or coordinated (depending on state regulations) into a single health benefit plan that covers employees 24 hours a day. Universal, 24-hour health coverage would provide medical benefits for all of an employee‘s injuries and diseases, whether work-related or not, in a single policy. However, this would hamper the ability of employers and insurers to control their costs in administering different types of medical coverage and insurance claims.

National Commission on State Workers’ Compensation Laws Act of 2009

One of several proposed amendments to national health care reform legislation, this would create a commission to study and evaluate state workers’ compensation laws and practices regarding: the amount and criteria for awarding permanent and temporary disability benefits; the misclassification of workers to avoid workers’ comp liability; standards to determine the aggravation or acceleration of pre-existing injuries or disease; time limits on filing claims; waiting periods; compulsory or elective coverage; administration; ensuring prompt hearings and due process rights in the resolution of claims;

Insurance Industry Regulation

The Insurance Information Act of 2009

While not directly addressing workers’ compensation, this act sets up a new Federal Office of Insurance within the Department of Treasury to extensively regulate insurance practices, which ultimately may impact workers’ compensation insurance industry practices in the states.

Workplace health and safety

OSHA Reporting: The Protecting America’s Workers Act

Federal OSHA would be given additional tools to address the underreporting of injuries and illnesses by employers. It is meant to improve the processes for reporting workplace injuries and to allow OSHA to better allocate resources, accurately target its inspections and evaluate the success of efforts to improve the workplace health and safety.

Mandatory paid sick leave: The Healthy Families Act

Employers with 15 or more employees would be required to institute a one-size-fits-all paid sick leave policy for all employees. It mandates employers to provide one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours an employee works up to 56 hours per calendar year (which can be carried over from one calendar year to the next). Employees’ paid sick leave would begin to accrue 60 days after the start of employment, and the legislation does not specify the increments of time the leave can be taken in. The bill also would allow employees to sue to recover actual damages, interest on actual damages, and attorneys’ fees for employer non-compliance.

Equal employment and employment discrimination

Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act

This would overturn a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the court established a higher standard of proof for age discrimination plaintiffs. The court ruled that plaintiffs must prove that age was not just a motivating factor, but the deciding factor, in an adverse employment decision. Some legislators believe, however, that the court created a higher burden of proof for victims of age discrimination than for claims based on race, sex, national origin or religious discrimination.

The Paycheck Fairness Act

Under this legislation, the existing Equal Pay Act would be amended to lift the statutory cap on damages, allowing for unlimited punitive and compensatory damages in cases of suspected pay discrimination, even those involving unintentional pay disparities. This would expose employers to far greater exposure of litigation. It also modifies the rules concerning collective actions filed under the Equal Pay Act, making it far easier for plaintiffs’ attorneys to file class action suits.
Labor Relations

The Employee Free Choice Act (“Card check”)

Known in the business community as the “card check bill,” this proposal would make unionization in the workplace easier by allowing labor unions to organize just by collecting signatures on a “card” from a majority of employees. It would undermine and virtually eliminate the democratic, secret ballot process for union elections by offering no safeguards against employee union intimidation and coercion. The legislation also seeks harsh one-sided penalties on employers for “interfering” with union elections, which actually means workers would lose the right to hear all sides of the union election debate and to make decisions freely without pressure.

For more information about these federal proposals, contact CBIA's Kia Murrelll at 860-244-1931.