Joseph R. Biden began his term as 46th president of the United States with at least part of what he needed to begin almost-immediate implementation of his legislative and policy initiatives: a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, and a 50-50 split in the Senate that allows Vice President Kamala Harris to break, in the president’s favor, any tied votes in that chamber.
This situation bodes well for a number of changes in employment law that have long been sought by Democrats, labor unions, progressives and other interested parties. Ally Law member firm Vorys took a look at some of issues most likely to reflect the president’s priorities and in which changes can be expected relatively soon. These include:
A higher federal minimum wage. For years, progressive activists have sought an increase in the federal minimum wage from current $7.25 per hour to $15.00 per hour. President Biden included this proposal in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021; however, in response to strong opposition from congressional Republicans, this provision was deleted from the bill before the final votes. This is likely not the end of the push, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) has introduced legislation that would mandate the same increase that was included in the prior relief bill, and employers are likely to see momentum for raising the minimum wage.
Increased opposition to classifying workers as “independent contractors.” Unlike many of his predecessors, President Biden has directly addressed some of the issues facing independent contractors, which make up a significant portion of the US workforce. Among other steps, the Department of Labor has proposed rescinding two sets of rules enacted during the Trump administration that made it easier to classify workers as independent contracts and tried to make it more difficult for employees to claim they are jointly employed by multiple entities (this latter rule was struck down in federal court).
Promotion of gender and racial equity and other diversity efforts for federal contractors. On his first day in office, President Biden overturned his predecessor’s executive order banning “divisive” diversity training. Based on prior Obama administration initiatives and President Biden’s own statements, federal contractors can likely expect additional legislative proposals and regulatory requirements promoting diversity and inclusion.
Increased focus on workplace safety. Although a number of changes coming from the Biden administration were related to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is possible that — as vaccines are rolled out and the economy begins to rebound — a series of new regulations that enhance reporting of workplace incidents, expand protections for workers, and increase workplace safety investigations initiated by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration are likely to be proposed, implemented and enforced.
Strengthening organized labor. Long a champion of organized labor, President Biden made support of unionized workers one of the principal components of his campaign platform — and he is expected to follow through on these commitments. A broad range of initiatives are likely to make it easier for employees to organize into unions, including the return of so-called “quickie election” rules. “Employer-friendly” policies may be called into question by a return to the pre-Trump approach, in which employer rules or policies that had a “chilling effect” on certain employee rights could be found to be in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
To learn more about the labor and employment issues to watch for in the first year of the Biden administration, click here to read the original article originally published in The Banker’s Statement and written by Nelson D. Cary and Eric E. Leist of Ally Law member firm Vorys.