Labor and Employment: 2015 Policy Agenda Summary
By Jessica Carter, Zach McGrain and Aaron Sturgill
The GOP will hold majorities in both the U.S Senate and U.S. House of Representatives as the 114th Congress convenes. This means a Republican controlled congress, a first during President Obama’s term, will most likely expend energy on executive branch employment issues. With unemployment rates lower than before the economic crisis, labor and employment are hot topics across our nation. The purpose of this article is to inform and update the reader on several agenda items that may affect labor and employment in 2015.
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA):
The Fair Labor Standards Act has been in existence since 1938. FLSA has been amended many times since, to meet the standards of the time. The basic requirements prescribe standards for minimum wage, overtime pay for time worked over 40 hours in a workweek, restrictions on employment of children, and required record keep data (FLSA, 2015).
Requirements of the FLSA:
There are exceptions to minimum wage standards under specific situations; workers with disabilities, full-time students, youth under the age of 20, employees that receive tips, and students learner (Interns)(FLSA, 2015). There are also special rules that apply to state and local government employment involving fire protection and law enforcement activities. An employer that requires and/or permits an employee to work overtime is responsible for allocating pay to any employee that works more than 40 hours in a workweek at a rate of no less than time and one-half (FLSA, 2015). There is no limit on the number of hours employees aged 16 and older may work in any workweek. However the FLSA does not require overtime pay for work on Saturday, Sundays, holidays, or any regular days of rest. FLSA requires that covered employers maintain accurate and up-to-date records on current and past employees. Employers are not required to gather information in a certain way, but are required to include certain identifying information about the employee and data about the hours worked and wages earned.
FLSA Violations and Enforcements:
Employers that do not follow the FLSA’s requirements are subject to a variety of punishments that could end in criminal prosecution. Though many violations are solved administratively, employers that knowingly/frequently violate FLSA requirements are subject to criminal penalties, including severe fines and imprisonment.
In 2014, democrats included language prohibiting any funds from being used to enter into a contract for a company that has a FLSA violation over the past five years. Adopted via amendments on four appropriations bills, legislation would not allow companies to bid on federal contacts if they had disclosed a FLSA violation. In December, the House spending bill withheld the language; however, federal contracts may still be impacted with President Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, which would give federal agencies review of company’s compliance history with labor laws.
January 23, 2013 the Paycheck Fairness Act, also known as the Equal Pay Act, made amendments to a portion of the FLSA, to revise remedies for enforcement and exceptions to prohibitions against sex discrimination in the payment of wages. This amendment also prohibits employer retaliation regarding employee complaints for:
• inquiring about, discussing, or disclosing the wages of the employee or another employee in response to a complaint or charge
• furtherance of a sex discrimination investigation, proceeding, hearing, or action, or an investigation conducted by the employer (Paycheck Fairness, 2013).
The Paycheck Fairness Act, which members of Congress have advanced, would limit the factors employers could consider in making pay and benefit decisions, most specifically to bona fide factors such as education, training or experience. The burden of proof would be shifted to the employer, not the employee in discrimination claims.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
Employees are protected from acts of discrimination, including religion, race, color, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, disability, and age (40+), with the establishment of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1965 (U.S. Equal, 2015). The EEOC also protects those who have complained, filed a formal charge, and/or partook in an employment discrimination lawsuit (U.S. Equal, 2015). Headquartered in the nation’s capital with an additional 53 offices scattered throughout the U.S., the EEOC thoroughly investigates discrimination cases against employers. Additionally, the EEOC has active outreach programs to educate and promote equal opportunity within the workplace (U.S. Equal, 2015).
The Commission has recently come under attack for its lack of transparency in its administrative actions. Republicans state that monetary awards pursued in litigation are down from previous years, and as of early 2014, the EEOC has over 70,000 discrimination cases pending. The EEOC counters these allegations by indicating they received 100,000+ cases last year, resolving over 111,000. Republicans are raising these concerns, and with a Senate and House majority, could require additional investigation. For now, accountability is expected from both employers and employees.
Employment Non-Discrimination Act
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would protect employees from acts of discrimination due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity during the hiring process, the term of an individual’s employment, an individual’s compensation, and the termination process (S.815-Employment, 2015). Unpaid volunteers would also be protected under ENDA. At this time, 21 states and Washington, D.C. have passed laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on an employee’s sexual orientation, and 18 states and D.C. have laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual identity (Employment Non-Discrimination, 2014).
Currently, the bill has not been passed, but members of Congress from both parties have proposed the ENDA. President Obama recently extended an executive order to protect employees from such discrimination in federal contracts. This act does place the burden of proof on the complaining party, not on the employer.
As labor and employment issues continue to capture the attention of Congress, they should also be on top of the mind for career development practitioners. Having an updated awareness about federal and state labor and employment issues helps practitioners not only more effectively advocate for clients, but better inform them of basic world of work principles.
Compliance Assistance By Law - The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2015, from http://www.dol.gov/compliance/laws/comp-flsa.htm
Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (2014, December 18). Retrieved from http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/employment-non-discrimination-act
S.815-Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013. Retrieved January 25, 2015 from
S.84 - Paycheck Fairness Act113th Congress (2013-2014). (2013, January 1). Retrieved January 26, 2015, from https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/senate-bill/84
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Retrieved January 25, 2015 from
Jessie Carter, M.A., serves as the Assistant Director for the Career and Leadership Development Center for the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. She has previous professional experience working in OHIO’s undergraduate admissions office. Jessie received her Bachelor of Arts from The Ohio State University in 2011 and her Masters in Higher Education from Ohio University in 2014. Carterj2@ohio.edu
Zach McGrain, M.A., serves as the Assistant Director of the Career and Leadership Development Center for the College of Health Sciences and Professions at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Zach is in his third year working at Ohio University. He also has professional experience as an academic advisor for Ohio University’s School of Nursing. He is currently in his second academic year in his current role. Zach received his Masters of Education from Baldwin Wallace University in 2012 and his Bachelors of Arts from Otterbein University in 2010. firstname.lastname@example.org
Aaron Sturgill, M.A.,is currently the Assistant Director for Hospitality, Merchandising and Recreation for the Career and Leadership Development Center (CLDC) at Ohio University. He was previously with Kohl¹s Department Stores where he served as an Assistant Store Manager, focusing on the soft lines business. In addition to his managerial duties, he was also a part of the campus recruitment team for Ohio University. Aaron earned his Bachelor¹s of Science at the University of Rio Grande in 2007 and his Master¹s degree in Apparel, Textiles and Merchandising from Ohio University in 2011. Sturgia1@ohio.edu