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Smoke but no fire on employment law bills

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

The U.S. Senate returned from its annual summer recess on Sept. 8 to face a legislative calendar dominated by debate about the nuclear arms treaty with Iran and passing a stopgap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1. That has pushed a robust employment law agenda onto the back burner.

Just before the Senate adjourned on Aug. 6, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Patty Murray of Washington asked for a voice vote to spring three bills—the Raise the Wage Act, the Healthy Families Act and the Schedules that Work Act—out of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pen­sions Committee.

Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R.–Tenn.) declined to call the vote, which would have cleared the way for a full vote on the Senate floor by Oct. 31. They remain bottled up in committee; companion bills in the House of Rep­­re­­sen­­ta­­tives face similar exile.

The Raise the Wage Act would lift the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020 and raise the tipped employee minimum to $3.16 in 2016.

The Healthy Families Act would require many employers to provide paid sick leave at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. Small businesses would be exempt from paying for the leave, but would have to provide some unpaid sick leave.

The Schedules that Work Act would allow workers to request changes to their work schedules and bar employers from retaliating against employees who do. The bill would require employers to engage in a good-faith process to accommodate employee requests.

In a statement, Alexander said the bills would make it “harder to hire and harder to find work.”

Alexander is pushing the GOP’s employment law agenda. He backs the Forty Hours Is Full Time Act of 2015, which would change the definition of full time work under the Affordable Care Act—currently 30 hours per week. Congressional Republicans are also hoping to move the Working Family Flexi­bil­ity Act, which would allow some private-sector employers to offer comp time in lieu of overtime.

With Democratic bills bottled up by GOP committee chairs and the president’s veto pen poised to kill Republican proposals, it appears none of these proposals has a chance in this Congress.

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