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Congress clears way for overtime revamp. Opponents of the Labor Department's proposal that redefines which employees qualify for overtime pay dropped their opposition last month. That clears the way for Labor to release the final regulations, which could come as early as this month. The rules will make it easier to determine who qualifies for overtime (and who's exempt). But they also cause more lower-paid workers to become eligible for overtime for the first time. The biggest proposed change: Employees earning below $22,100 a year would automatically qualify for overtime pay. That's up from the current $8,060 threshold. (See 4/21/03 issue.)

Medicare reforms include pro-business changes. Some employer-related provisions are tucked inside the huge Medicare reform bill that's awaiting President Bush's signature. One section would extend tax-free subsidies to companies that provide drug benefits to retirees. Another would create "health savings accounts" (HSAs) that employees (up to age 65) can contribute to tax-free and use to pay health costs. Unlike flexible spending accounts, HSAs would be portable between jobs, and the assets accumulate over the years. Look for more details in an upcoming issue.

Congress gives all employers ability to confirm I-9 documents. Congress passed a bill (S. 1685) last month that would expand to all 50 states a program that lets employers check new hires' Social Security and alien identification numbers against government records to verify the person's work eligibility. Currently, that pilot program is available to employers in six states: California, Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, New York and Texas. More than 11,700 employers in those states have opted to check numbers via phone or computer. By Dec. 1, 2004, the program will go nationwide. President Bush is expected to sign the bill.

Create a drug-free workplace with free government advice. The Labor Department revamped its Web site to help employers establish drug-free programs. The site features an interactive tool—the Drug-Free Workplace Advisor—that helps you build tailored drug policies and programs. Find it at www.dol.gov/dol/workingpartners.htm.

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