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SHRM’s Employment Law & Legislative Conference: A preview with Mike Aitken

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The Society for Human Resource Management’s Employment Law & Legislative Conference is this week in Washington, D.C. The event is nearly sold out, but SmartBrief on Workforce Senior Editor Mary Ellen Slayter was able to catch up with Mike Aitken, SHRM’s director of government affairs, to learn more about how changes on the Hill could affect HR professionals. If you’re in D.C., please sign up to join us at the reception/tweetup on Thursday evening at the Library of Congress.

MARY ELLEN: For HR professionals, what are the three issues on the Hill that they absolutely must pay attention to right now?

MIKE: At the beginning of 2009, SHRM had predicted that the 111th Congress would be the most active Congress on HR public policy issues in a generation.  It appeared that the election of President Barack Obama and strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress would mean pushes to enact significant legislation in the areas of health care, immigration, paid leave, labor relations, and civil rights.  Seeming to reinforce this notion, Congress swiftly passed and President Obama signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act on Jan. 29, 2009. But Congressional passage of a stimulus bill last spring and the lengthy journey of the health care reform legislation have slowed consideration of other HR public policy issues. We are now just beginning to see the logjam break on labor, tax, civil rights and workplace flexibility legislation.

All that said, three of the most important issues facing the HR profession today are health care, taxes and the regulatory agenda.

  • Congress is moving ahead with plans to consider comprehensive health care reform legislation, with the House possibly voting on the Senate-passed bill during this week.
  • On taxes, many of the provisions enacted or extended through the Economic Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act in 2001 (including Section 127 employer-provided educational assistance) are due to expire on Dec. 31, 2010.  Congress will need to consider a legislative vehicle to extend many of these important tax benefits.
  • Finally, we anticipate several regulatory proposals from the executive branch this year, including the ADA Amendments Act from the EEOC, reporting requirements on “persuader” rules from the Department of Labor, and new “high road” requirements for federal contractors.

What is the best way for them to get involved in shaping that conversation?

To advance the HR profession, it is vital that SHRM members participate in the public policy process.   Attending the SHRM Employment Law and Legislative Conference and participating in the Capitol Hill Advocacy are two of the most important ways HR professionals can share their HR knowledge with policymakers.  The Legislative Conference provides our members with other opportunities to “put a face” behind HR and to let their voices be heard on the significant issues of the day.

Keep in mind that lawmakers do not always have a great knowledge of HR.  There are only two members of the 535-member Congress who have significant HR experience.  Our elected leaders have a steep learning curve when it comes to understanding how existing laws and proposed legislation affect the work of HR professionals.  That’s why SHRM member advocacy and participation in the Legislative Conference are so important — both allow HR professionals the chance to improve pending legislation before it becomes law and has an impact on organizations.

Image credit: diademimages, via iStock