2015 was indeed a banner year for HR advocacy, and we’re certain that 2016 will be just as active, if not more so, due to the fact that it’s a presidential election year and there are a number of workplace regulatory actions that will be advanced by the Obama administration in the coming months. Below are the items that make up the Top 10 accomplishments for SHRM HR advocacy in 2015:
1. Fighting Extreme Changes to Overtime Rules—SHRM has raised concerns about DOL’s proposed rules on overtime that would more than double the salary threshold for employees’ eligibility for overtime and provide for automatic annual increases to the salary threshold for the first time since enactment of the Fair Labor Standards Act back in 1938. To ensure the HR voice is heard on development of these rules, SHRM established and chairs the Partnership to Protect Workplace Opportunity (PPWO), a coalition of employer groups with 48 associations and organizations. In addition to leading the coalition, we prepared SHRM members to influence the proposed rule by: hosting an educational webinar that garnered over 18,000 registered attendees; facilitating six opportunities for SHRM members to testify before policymakers; submitting SHRM’s comment letter to DOL, signed by 357 SHRM affiliates; and encouraging more than 2,200 individual SHRM members to submit comments on the rule. As DOL reviews comments, work continues to influence the outcome of the final rule prior to its publication date, expected in the summer of 2016.
2. Delaying the Excise Tax on Employer-Sponsored Health Care Benefits—After years of aggressively advocating for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) 40 percent excise tax (“Cadillac tax”) on high-value health plans, SHRM achieved a two-year delay of the implementation of the tax until 2020. This effort was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 that was signed into law by President Obama on December 18. Repeal of the excise tax was supported by 50 SHRM state councils, over 190 chapters and nearly 400 individual SHRM members who advocated on Capitol Hill during the SHRM Volunteer Leaders’ Summit.
3. Securing the Tax Permanency of Valuable Employer-Provided Benefits—Also included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, was the SHRM-supported tax extenders bill ensuring that several important employer-provided benefits will become permanent or be extended for two to five years. SHRM advocated strongly in support of protecting tax credits that enable employers to design and offer a comprehensive benefits package—a key component in retaining and recruiting a skilled workforce.
4. Growing SHRM’s Advocacy Team (A-Team) Ranks; Moving the Needle on Critical Workplace Policy—SHRM’s A-Team network of volunteer public-policy advocates across the country grew to over 8,000 active members in 2015, with 459 “Advocacy Captains” and congressional district leaders in all 50 states. Over 1,000 HR professionals participated in face-to-face meetings with legislators and/or their staffs this year on Capitol Hill, back home in district offices and in a number of state capitols, helping to grow the awareness of the HR profession and how certain public-policy proposals would impact the workplace.
5. Preventing Debarment of Federal Contractors—After extensive A-Team outreach to educate members of Congress about the challenges of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), SHRM was able to defeat three proposed amendments before Congress that would have resulted in debarring employers with even a single FLSA violation in the last five years from eligibility to compete for federal contracts. This was notable because the previous Congress embraced a similar amendment with bipartisan support on multiple appropriations bills.
6. Raising the Visibility of the HR Brand in Sacramento—SHRM and the California SHRM State Council (CalSHRM) played an integral role in stopping a bill that would have expanded California’s unpaid family leave policy. In his veto message, Gov. Jerry Brown echoed the concerns both organizations expressed that the expansion would have created too great a disparity between California’s family leave laws and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). CalSHRM and SHRM also sponsored a bill that would allow California employers to establish a voluntary preference in the hiring of veterans and helped get it passed out of the Assembly on a bipartisan 77-0 vote and pending before the California Senate.
7. Filing 20 Comment Letters and Legal Briefs on Workplace Issues—The past year saw robust action on the part of the Obama administration and the federal agencies in issuing executive orders and proposed regulations affecting the workplace. SHRM submitted 15 comment letters to federal agencies on issues such as overtime, compensation data collection, new federal contractor mandates and the Cadillac tax. SHRM also submitted five legal briefs, as well as one lawsuit that challenged the National Labor Relations Board’s expedited elections rule. SHRM members were also activated to provide critical testimony eight times on regulatory issues such as overtime, federal contractor mandates, workplace diversity, retaliation and harassment, and two SHRM members were appointed to EEOC’s internal working group on workplace harassment as a result of testimony before the commission.
8. Engaging in the Paid Sick Leave Mandate Debate in Maryland—Thanks in large part to the efforts of committed volunteer leaders of the Maryland SHRM State Council, legislators in Annapolis now have a better understanding of the impact a mandated paid sick leave proposal would have on large and small businesses as well as the benefits they currently provide their employees. MD SHRM testified before both the House and Senate and is organizing efforts to find a balanced, workable alternative to a one-size-fits-all state mandate, one that recognizes the distinct interests of both workers and their employers.
9. Advocating for Immigration Reform—SHRM and its strategic affiliate, the Council for Global Immigration (CFGI), championed the successful inclusion of language in the House immigration enforcement bill to provide employers with modern tools to ensure a legal workforce. In addition, our advocacy efforts yielded an extension of the current E-Verify program through Sept. 30, 2016. On the administrative front, a White House report included key concepts that SHRM and CFGI have long advocated for, most notably a program like “Known Employer.”
10. Advocating and Representing HR—SHRM continues to be recognized by lawmakers and regulators as the lead advocate and thought leader for the HR profession on workplace issues. As a result, the number of proactive reach out efforts from Congress and the agencies continues to grow. In 2015, SHRM was contacted by Congress and the federal agencies over 100 times on a range of workplace issues from the impact of the ACA on employer health care offerings to ways of embracing and fostering workplace flexibility. As a result, SHRM members testified before public policymakers over 20 times in 2015—more than any other year in SHRM’s history!