Despite shifting political winds in Washington, several long-anticipated labor reforms have begun to take effect this year. However, many of these policies will face intense scrutiny from the new administration, which may lead to delayed rollouts or complete cancellations of those plans.
A few of 2017’s major labor laws have already been rescinded, and more rollbacks are likely, if not inevitable. One shuttered policy was a Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule requiring companies bidding for large federal contracts to divulge and rectify previous safety violations; another law that established a timeframe for state drug-testing of applicants for unemployment benefits has been ended as well.
Perhaps one of the most endangered policy items is the overtime pay ruling, which would double, to around $47,000, the maximum salary an employee can earn while remaining eligible for overtime pay. The measure was blocked in December 2016 by a federal judge, however, and the Labor Department is currently in the process of appealing for a lower salary cap.
In addition, the Labor Department recently began the process of dismantling the “persuader rule” which would have forced lawyers serving as labor consultants to disclose all relevant activities. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has also delayed a handful of workplace safety policies, including a rule mandating certain employers to electronically submit injury and illness data to OSHA, as well as rules limiting workers’ exposure to beryllium and crystalline silica, manufacturing byproducts associated with lung disease.
The Labor Department’s budgeting looks to shift under the new administration as well. President Trump has proposed cutting the Labor Department’s budget by 21%, from $12.1 billion to $9.7 billion. Some labor funding has been increased, however: Trump’s budget plans include a 22% funding bump for the Office of Labor-Management Standards, which investigates private sector unions for misconduct. Also, an executive order signed in July more than doubled government funding for apprenticeship programs to around $200 million.
With Congress largely deadlocked and the administration focused on unraveling its predecessors’ policies, many of 2017’s most significant changes to labor and employment laws have taken place at a state and local level. Numerous states have greenlit annually adjusted minimum wage increases, and in 2016, Massachusetts passed limitations on employer inquiries regarding job applicants’ previous salaries. Paid sick leave was also a subject of statewide reform, with multiple states initiating increased coverage for employees on leave.
Cities and other municipalities are also increasingly legislating in favor of workers. Laws raising minimum wages and expanding paid sick leave policies have seen localized adoption rates far surpassing state, and especially federal, action. Some cities have enacted flexible scheduling regulations requiring certain retail and service industry employers to set schedules in advance pay fees to employees for last-minute schedule changes. San Francisco set a standard for parental leave in 2016, becoming the first municipality to legislate that employers supplement the wages of employees taking off to care for new children.