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HR law: All eyes on the Supreme Court

by on
in Employment Law,Human Resources

When the Society for Human Resource Management began planning this week’s Annual Conference in Atlanta, it had no idea that the center of the HR universe would be 640 miles northeast in Washington, D.C.

HR professionals have spent the week focused on the U.S. Supreme Court, which Monday issued an important decision affecting immigration and hiring and announced that it will hear another critical HR case next year. That was all build-up to Thursday, when the High Court is expected to issue its long-awaited ruling on the constitutionality of the 2010 health care reform law.

Arizona’s ‘illegal alien’ law

On Monday, the Supreme Court overturned many of the provisions in S.B. 1070, a controversial 2010 Arizona law enacted in an effort to curb illegal immigration into the state.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona et al. v. United States let stand a provision that allows Arizona police to demand identification papers from those they reasonably believe might be in the United States illegally.

However, it said other parts of the law are unconstitutional, including a provision that made it illegal for an undocumented worker to apply for or hold a job in Arizona. The court said the federal government has exclusive authority to make and enforce laws concerning immigration, and that employment issues are already governed by the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986.

That law states that employers—not employees—are liable when undocumented workers are employed. Writing for the majority in a 5-3 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that when Congress passed the IRCA, it “made a deliberate choice not to impose criminal penalties on aliens who seek, or engage in, unauthorized employment.” Thus, the Court decided, the IRCA trumps Arizona’s law.

The big health-care reform decision

On Thursday at 10:00 a.m., the Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision in Florida, et al., v. Department of Health and Human Services, et al., the landmark case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act health care reform law.

No one knows how the Supreme Court will rule; it could go three ways. The court might decide that:
  1. The law is constitutional exactly as it was written and enacted
  2. The entire law is unconstitutional, and therefore must be overturned
  3. Parts of the law—for example the so-called individual mandate requiring almost all Americans to have health insurance—are unconstitutional, but other parts may stand.

Read more about the Supreme Court’s ACA case at www.theHRSpecialist.com/ACAdecision.

To follow the Supreme Court’s live announcement of its decision, visit www.scotusblog.com at 10:00 a.m. EDT on Thursday.

On next year’s docket

On Monday, the Supreme Court announced several of the cases it will hear next term, including one that tackles the tricky issue of supervisor harassment. Vance v. Ball State University will test the limits set by two landmark cases that have defined harassment litigation since 1998: Faragher v. City of Boca Raton and Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth.

At issue is whether the supervisor liability rule established in those cases applies to harassment by those whom the employer vests with authority to direct and oversee their victim’s daily work, or is limited to those harassers who have the power to “hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline” their victim.

The court has not yet scheduled when it will hear arguments in Vance v. Ball State.

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