Special to the
Opelika Observer

Members of the Alabama Society for Human Resource Management were on Capitol Hill Sept. 13 to share views on several legislative issues being considered by Congress that impact the workplace.
The group included Erica Norris, human resources director for the Lee County Commission and a member of the East Alabama SHRM chapter.
She was among nine human resource professionals from across the state of Alabama that met with their representatives and congressional staffs in Washington for the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) annual Capitol Hill Visit.
They spoke about the ACA (Affordable Care Act) and health care; Tax Reform and Employer-Provided Benefits; Workplace Flexibility; Save American Workers Act; the Upward Mobility Enhancement Act; and the Employer Participation in Student Loan Assistance Act.
“We were able to provide a unique perspective on the impact of legislative issues in the workplace,” Norris said. “Alabama SHRM representatives are positioned as liaisons between the employee and the employer and we provide a tremendous introspective to Congress regarding workplace issues.”
The event was part of the SHRM 2018 Employment Law & Legislative Conference, held March 12-14 in Washington D.C.
They discussed the following issues with lawmakers:
• Tax Reform and Employer-Provided Benefits: Congressional Tax Reform 2.0 efforts will certainly affect both employers and employees. The tax preferred treatment of many employer-provided benefits is a potential target for Congress, as they look for a way to pay for the cost of reform. Many benefits, including health care and retirement plans, adoption assistance, and education assistance are tax deferred or excluded from tax, resulting in less immediate revenue to the federal government. Congressional efforts may involve changing the tax treatment of these benefits, which could dramatically affect an employee’s ability to offer a comprehensive benefits package to their employees.
• Workplace Flexibility: Even though most employers are already offering some form of paid leave and flexible work options, federal, state and local policymakers continue to pursue mandated approaches to these benefits. Several proposals would expand the FMLA to require family and medical leave to be paid. Lawmakers also continue to pursue various forms of mandated paid sick leave. Ten states plus the District of Columbia and more than 30 localities have adopted rigid paid-sick-leave laws. Other policy initiatives include requiring employers to establish predictable work schedules, guaranteeing an employee’s right to request a flexible work schedule or placing restrictions on the use of compressed workweeks. As a result, employers must now navigate a fragmented system of state and local paid-leave mandates and flexible work requirements, causing numerous challenges for employers and employees.
• Health Care: Although the ACA has expanded access to health insurance for an estimated 20 million Americans, new data suggests that the uninsured rate is on the rise. The U.S. uninsured rate rose from 12.7 percent at the end of 2016 to 15.5 percent in the first three months of 2018. At the same time, increasing health care costs continue to place a growing burden on employers, individuals and the economy. Moreover, employers are continuing to experience increased costs, expanded regulatory requirements and reduced flexibility in managing their employer-sponsored plans as a result of the ACA.
• Save American Workers Act: Amends the Internal Revenue Code to change the definition of “full-time employee” for purposes of the employer mandate to provide minimum essential health care coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act from an employee who is employed on average at least 30 hours of service a week to an employee who is employed on average at least 40 hours of service a week.
• The Upward Mobility Enhancement Act: Proposes to expand Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) to increase the yearly allowable amount employers can voluntarily provide toward education assistance as a tax-free benefit; the proposal sets the amount at $11,500 per year, per employee. The amount would then be indexed for inflation.
• The Employer Participation in Student Loan Assistance Act: Would expand Section 127 of the IRC to include student loan repayment as a tax-free, qualified education expense. Under this plan, employers would be able to voluntarily provide student loan repayment as a tax-free employee benefit, up to $5,250 per year, per employee.