January 2021 brings a new year and a new balance of power in the federal government. In the coming months, we can expect a flurry of activity as the government continues to address COVID-19 and reexamines policies from the previous administration. Here are some of the biggest developments so far this year:
- In one of his first acts in office, President Biden issued an Executive Order to the Department of Labor (DOL) to issue revised guidance for employers to boost COVID-19 safety precautions for workers. Specifically, Biden instructed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to examine current mask-wearing requirements, to partner with state and local governments, and to offer additional resources to help protect workers. This may be the first of several measures of the new administration to have OSHA and the federal government take a greater role in combating COVID-19 in the workplace.
- Congressional Democrats have released a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15.00 per hour by 2025. The bill proposes a gradual increase from the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, with an initial boost of $2.25 per hour when the bill becomes effective. The bill further indexes future annual increases based upon median hourly wage growth as calculated by the DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to a Congressional Budget Office report issued in 2019, raising the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour would increase wages for between approximately 17 and 27 million workers. However, the increase would also result in approximately 1.3 million workers losing their jobs. Time will tell if the bill becomes law. The federal minimum wage has not increased since 2007.
- The Department of Labor issued new opinion letters clarifying travel pay requirements for partial telework days. The DOL addressed the situation where an employee divides a workday into a block of work in the office and a block of work at home, with a block in between reserved for the employee’s own purposes. According to the letters, the reserved time is not compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), even if the employee uses some of that time to travel between home and the office. As an example, DOL describes a situation where an employee leaves the workplace in the afternoon to attend a parent-teacher conference, and then resumes work at home after the meeting, having spent an hour traveling to and from the school. The time the worker spent between leaving the office and clocking back in at home is not compensable. While this may seem like common sense, employers are facing more and more situations like this, and so clear guidance from the DOL is critical.
Jeff Burke is an attorney at MacElree Harvey, Ltd., working in the firm’s Employment and Litigation practice groups. Jeff counsels businesses and individuals on employment practices and policies, employee hiring and separation issues, non-competition and other restrictive covenants, wage and hour disputes, and other employment-related matters. Jeff also represents businesses and individuals in employment litigation such as employment contract disputes, workforce classification audits, and discrimination claims based upon age, sex, race, religion, disability, sexual harassment, and hostile work environment.