Change. America voted for it, and small businesses will certainly receive their fair share in 2009.
Much has been made about the proposed changes to the tax code that could affect small businesses. But the arrival in Washington of President Barack Obama and a firmly Democratic-controlled Congress could carry “the most sweeping HR-related changes in 30 years,” according to the Society for Human Resource .
What will that mean for small firms? Here are the five most important workplace issues on Obama’s agenda:
1. Create a new “play or pay” health care mandate. The plan would require employers to either offer health insurance to their employees or to pay an unspecified percentage of their payroll toward the cost of a national plan. Some of the smallest businesses would be exempted from the plan and would get tax subsidies to offer health insurance.
2. Mandate paid leave and expand . Obama favors following the lead of a handful of states and cities that now require employers to offer at least seven days of paid sick leave each year to their employees.
Plus, a suite of bills would extend rights to more employees. Among the proposals: require a greater number of employers to offer unpaid FMLA leave to their employees by reducing (from 50 to 25) the number of employees an employer must have to be covered by the FMLA. Obama’s plan would also provide up to 24 hours of annual FMLA leave for parents to participate in their children’s school activities.
3. Make unionization easier. Obama is the most pro-union president in a generation. And organized labor’s No. 1 agenda item is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would make it much easier for unions to organize.
Reason: EFCA would eliminate secret-ballot elections. Plus, it would establish strict new pro-union deadlines for collective bargaining and arbitration.
4. Make sexual-orientation bias illegal. Currently, 20 states and several municipalities already make it illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants based on their sexual orientation.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would take those laws national. It would place discrimination against gay employees on a par with discrimination based on race, national origin, age and gender.
5. Ban mandatory arbitration. Obama also favors legislation that would prohibit employers from requiring employees to take their employment disputes to arbitration, rather than filing a lawsuit in court. Arbitration is a cheaper, less risky alternative to facing a jury.
Outlook and timing
Business groups will oppose many of these measures, but each has a more than 50-50 chance of passing. Expect some to happen quickly. As you may remember, the FMLA was passed and signed into law within two weeks of President Clinton’s inauguration.
How to respond. First, get educated on these proposals and review your budget. You’re likely to face higher litigation, regulatory and benefits costs.
To deter organizing efforts, make your company such a good place to work that employees won’t see the need to join a union. Develop a positive employee-relations program and improve your supervisor training.
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