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Staffing Central, SHRM Edition: Employment Trends You Need to Know

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On the heels of attending this year’s SHRM Conference we have an extra hop in our step from the energy and passion on display from our friends and colleagues in the HR industry. With four jammed packed days and so much to digest, everyone is headed home with some leftover food for thought. Here are some of hottest issues we’d like to share while they’re still fresh. 

1. Amending the FLSA

For the first time since 2004, the Department of Labor has taken steps to amend the Federal Labor Standards Act. Of particular concern to HR pros should be the law’s new overtime protections for the estimated 4.2 million workers who earn less than $47,476 a year. Employees in this income bracket who work more than 40 hours a week will soon be entitle to overtime pay. This is a huge change from previous years when overtime pay was reserved for those with annual earnings of only half that amount. 

According to Fast Company writer, Cale Guthrie Weissman, “Employers have a variety of ways to comply [with the new law]: They can raise these workers’ salaries to make them exempt from the overtime threshold, pay the mandated time-and-a-half overtime for those who do work more, or simply make sure employees aren’t working overtime.” 

This new compensation structure is bound to make waves in 2016 and we’ll likely see ripples for years to come. Employers continue to watching this closely. 

2. Pregnant Workers Fairness Act 

New federal legislation protecting pregnant women in the workplace has been introduced and is now pending in the U.S. Congress. According to the National Women’s Law Center, "The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would let pregnant workers continue to do their jobs and support their families by requiring employers to make the same sorts of accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions that they do for disabilities.” Accommodations may include allowing pregnant employees to opt out of heavy lifting or long periods of standing and permitting frequent bathroom breaks or snacks. 

The PWFA is expected to clarify rules and close loopholes in the existing legislation which first went into effect back in 1978. "Unfortunately, many courts interpreted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 narrowly and allowed employers to refuse to accommodate workers with medical needs arising out of pregnancy even when they routinely accommodated other physical limitations, “ explains the NWLC. Many states have already addressed the inadequacies of the 1978 law by creating their own legislation in recent years.

“The ultimate goal [of the proposed federal legislation] is to ensure that employees are no longer put in a position where they have to choose between pregnancy and a job,” writes Brett McIntyre for Business2Community

3. Ban the Box legislation 

Introduced in September 2015, the bipartisan-backed Federal Fair Chance Act would prohibit employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history on employment applications. The ban is already enforced in many U.S. cities and localities and with regard to the recruiting of federal job candidates. Keep in mind however, that these bans don’t prevent employers from doing background checks at a later point in the application process. Instead, they make it impossible for employers to exclude candidates solely on the basis of their criminal histories. 

4. Minimum wage increase for federal contractors

In January 2015, President Obama signed an executive order increasing the minimum wage for federal contractors employed under Federal construction and service contracts to $10.10 per hour. The order also made the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez, the arbiter of subsequent wage hikes. As of Jan. 1, 2016, the minimum wage for federal contractors increased to $10.15 per hour. 

5. OSHA raises fines

As of this August, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has permission to raise the costs of its fines by as much as 80 percent. In other words, says Safety and Health Magazine, the “maximum penalty for a willful violation would rise to about $127,000 from the current $70,000.” Why such a big change? There hasn’t been an increase in fines since 1990 and OSHA is being allowed to charge one-time “catch up” penalties. This should be a great incentive for employers to comply with OSHA guidelines, going a long way to ensure the safety and health of their employees. 

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