Labor Secretary Releases Budget Request

Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta has released the fiscal year 2018 budget request for the Department of Labor (DOL). According to the official press release, it supports President Donald J. Trump’s plan to invest in priorities that will help American workers develop the necessary skills to meet the demands of a 21st century economy and get good, safe jobs, provide working families access to paid leave, assist employers in meeting their responsibilities under worker protection laws, and restore fiscal responsibility.

The FY 2018 budget provides $9.7 billion in discretionary funding for the department. This funding level, coupled with mandatory investments and reforms, supports critical functions of the department, while providing a strong investment return for the American taxpayer, by consolidating or eliminating duplicative or ineffective programs.

“This budget reflects the Department of Labor’s core mission and commitment to ensuring all Americans have access to good, safe jobs – and does so in a fiscally responsible way,” said Secretary Acosta. “Most importantly, this budget focuses on narrowing the skills gap, and includes a proposal to provide new mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents with paid family leave, the cost of which is completely offset by reforms to the Unemployment Insurance system.”


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Trump’s Budget Proposes Merger of EEOC and OFCCP

The  budget proposal just released by the White House envisions a merger of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP),  “creating one agency to combat employment discrimination.”

The EEOC, a stand-alone agency, polices American businesses for discrimination at work, while the OFCCP, a division within the Department of Labor (DOL), aims to ensure compliance by federal contractors with relevant laws, regulations and executive orders. The EEOC enjoys subpoena powers, can initiate lawsuits and seek monetary rewards. The OFCCP does not have these powers.

If adopted by Congress, the merger would be fully implemented by the end of Fiscal Year 2018.

According to its proponents, this integration would promote efficiency and economy, improve service to citizens and strengthen civil rights enforcement.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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MSHA Extends Effective Date on Examinations of Working Places

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced it is extending the effective date of the agency’s final rule on Examinations of Working Places in Metal and Nonmetal Mines until Oct. 2, 2017. This extension will allow additional time for MSHA to provide training and compliance assistance for its stakeholders.

MSHA is developing a variety of compliance assistance materials to assist the industry, which the agency will make available to stakeholders and post on the website at www.msha.gov. The extension will enable the agency to hold informational meetings and focus on compliance assistance visits at various locations around the country. Additional time will also allow MSHA to train its inspectors to assure consistent enforcement.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Acosta Says Fiduciary Rule Will Take Effect June 9

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta announced there was no reason to further delay the implementation of his department’s fiduciary rule, and thus it will take effect June 9 following its first postponement.

“We have carefully considered the record in this case, and the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act, and have found no principled legal basis to change the June 9 date while we seek public input,” Mr Acosta wrote. “Respect for the rule of law leads us to the conclusion that this date cannot be postponed.”

The rule was delayed from April 10 to June 9 after President Donald Trump issued an executive order to have its provisions reviewed, a process which is ongoing.

The Department of Labor (DOL) fiduciary rule requires that those who sell retirement plans must put the interest of their clients first, meaning they cannot market only those plans that benefit them the most.

“During the phased implementation period ending on Jan. 1, 2018, the department will not pursue claims against fiduciaries who are working diligently and in good faith to comply with the fiduciary duty rule and exemptions, or treat those fiduciaries as being in violation of the fiduciary duty rule and exemptions,” the Field Assistance Bulletin states.

In addition to Acosta’s op-ed in the Journal and the DOL bulletin, the agency released on a new set of frequently asked questions related to the transition period from June 9 to January 1, 2018.

Since the rule does not take full effect until Jan. 1, there is still time for revisions, especially since a public commentary period is ongoing, and the president has asked for a full review and revising as necessary.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Administration Seeks 90-Day Extension on Obamacare Subsidies Hearing

Facing an appeals hearing on an Obamacare lawsuit brought by House Republicans, President Donald Trump’s administration has asked a U.S. Court of Appeals for another 90 days to resolve the legal issue with regard to the so-called cost-sharing reduction payments mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

The Department of Justice and House Republicans made the joint request as they “continue to discuss measures that would obviate the need for judicial determination of this appeal, including potential legislative action,” such as the GOP’s PPACA replacement plan, known as the American Health Care Act (AHCA), according to a Bloomberg report.

The lawsuit contends that the House of Representatives, where according to the Constitution all spending measures must originate, never authorized the subsidy payments designed to make health insurance more affordable for low-income consumers. A federal judge agreed with the Republicans, and now the issue is before an appeals court.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Wal-Mart Settles First-Ever LGBTQ Class Action Lawsuit

Wal-Mart settled the first successful LGBTQ lawsuit ever this past week when it agreed to shell out $7.5 million to lesbian and gay employees whose same-sex spouses were denied benefits between 2011 and 2013, when the retail giant changed its policy.

“This class action settlement breaks new ground,” the attorneys for the plaintiffs said in court documents. “This is the first class action brought on behalf of LGBTQ workers to be certified and settled, and hopefully the settlement of this action will inspire other LGBTQ workers to employ the class action device to secure equal rights in the future.”

Though the Department of Labor (DOL) in 2013 issued guidance saying same-sex spouses are protected under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), some employers have yet to adopt that guidance.

A federal judge in Boston on May 15 approved the settlement in the case of Cole v. Wal-Mart Stores.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Attorneys General Hope to Intervene in Obamacare Lawsuit

In an appeal pending before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the fate of federal subsidies to health insurance companies lay in the balance after a federal judge sided with a lawsuit by Republicans claiming the payments were unconstitutional since the House of Representatives had never appropriated the funds.

Now a group of 16 state attorneys general, all Democrats, is seeking to intervene in the proceedings to prevent a cutoff of funds provided for in a provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or more commonly, Obamacare). The group, which filed a motion to intervene, is being led by the California and New York AGs, Xavier Becerra and Eric Schneiderman.

The subsidies, totaling about $7 billion a year, are meant to defray losses by health insurers when providing insurance for low-income customers.

“The stakes are very high. In Maryland we have more than 400,000 people who depend on the Affordable Care Act to get normal health care. It sounds alarming, but it’s true: lives are at stake,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, who signed on to the filing.

President Trump, who calls the subsidies a “bailout,” has threatened to withhold the funds as a bargaining chip in negotiations.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Labor Secretary Stresses Apprenticeships in an ‘Age of Accelerations’

Speaking at the G-20 Labor and Employment Ministers’ Meeting today in Bad Neuenahr, Germany,  Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta emphasized his support for fostering the growth of apprenticeships, a major priority for President Trump and the Department of Labor. The secretary’s remarks were aimed at reinforcing the White House Office of American Innovation’s commitment to increasing the number of quality apprenticeships, including expansion into high-growth, emerging sectors where apprenticeships have historically been rare.

Here are some highlights from his remarks:

“We are living in an ‘Age of Accelerations,’ as some commentators have said. Technological breakthroughs are improving the way we live and creating new jobs with new skill needs.

“In the United States, we have about six million vacant jobs and seven million unemployed workers. In the last several months, CEO after CEO has told me that they are eager to fill their vacancies, but they cannot find workers with the right skills. Perhaps our most critical challenge today is giving our workers the skills they need to participate in an ever-changing, fast-moving economy.

“The Age of Accelerations calls for demand-driven education that gives men and women the technical skills they need now – and also prepares them to be agile, responsive life-long learners who can acquire new skills in our ever-changing workplace.

“Apprenticeships are one key to meeting this challenge. Apprenticeships are a win-win for workers and businesses. They give workers the skills they need today, and – if structured correctly – prepare workers to be lifelong learners ready and able to acquire new skills as the economy continues to change. And apprenticeships give businesses the skilled workers they so desperately need.

“Educational institutions are critical partners in fostering apprenticeships. They have the experience required to teach students both practical skills and habits of learning needed to succeed in the Age of Accelerations. Furthermore, apprenticeship programs often help students pay for their education, reducing student debt.

“Governments should focus on bringing businesses and educational institutions together to benefit students, workers, and the economy. And they should help ensure that both younger workers entering the workforce and older workers seeking new skills have access to these programs.

“In the United States, apprenticeships are a major priority for President Trump and the Department of Labor. We have made a strong commitment to increasing the number of quality apprenticeships, including expansion into high-growth, emerging sectors where apprenticeships have historically been rare.

“We in the United States are eager to work with each of you to foster the global growth of apprenticeships. Earlier this year, President Trump, Chancellor Merkel, and representatives of the American and German business communities held a roundtable to highlight their importance to the 21st century global economy in both nations.

“Let me also recognize the G-20 Initiative to Support Quality Apprenticeships, which the United States supported last year with China in Beijing.”

READ FULL TEXT


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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CMS Issues States ACA Waiver Checklist

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has released new information to help states seek waivers from requirements in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The new tool is intended to help states complete waiver applications that allow them to establish high-risk pools/ state-operated reinsurance programs. Section 1332 waivers generally can be used by states to opt out of some mandated provisions under the ACA.

CMS is helping to provide guidance to states that want to pursue solutions to help lower costs and increase coverage choices for Americans struggling with unaffordable premiums and reduced competition in the insurance market, brought on by the ACA. Individuals obtaining coverage in the ACA marketplace have faced double-digit premium increases and insurance issuer exits.

Nationally, premiums on Healthcare.gov have increased by an average of 25 percent for 2017. The state of Arizona saw insurance costs go up more than 100 percent and one third of counties in the U.S. currently only have one insurer participating in the exchange. Two insurance carriers in Iowa recently announced they were exiting the market, leaving Iowans in jeopardy of having no insurers participating in the exchange in 2018.

“Today’s guidance addresses the ACA’s impact in driving up insurance costs and reducing choices,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “State initiated waivers that implement high-risk pool/ state-operated reinsurance programs will help lower premiums, stabilize the health insurance exchange, and meet the unique needs of each state.”

States have unique sets of challenges within the health insurance exchange and in the broader individual health insurance market. In Alaska, for example, initial rate information showed the state could face a potential 40 percent increase in premiums in the 2017 plan year. In an effort to stabilize premiums, the state introduced a reinsurance program to offset the projected increase. The move helped to steady premiums, and Alaska is now requesting a 1332 State Innovation Waiver in order to continue the program for future plan years. If approved, the state could receive federal funding to offset a portion of the costs. Federal law requires the 1332 reinsurance program to be budget neutral, so it will not increase costs for taxpayers.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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OSHA Postpones Start Date of Electronic Reporting

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has sent an email to stakeholders informing them that the July 1 start date for electronic reporting of injuries and illnesses has been postponed, with no new start date announced. The email reads in part:

OSHA intends to extend the initial date by which certain employers are required to electronically submit their injury and illness logs.  The Recordkeeping Rule currently requires certain employers to submit the information from their completed 2016 Form 300A to OSHA electronically by July 1, 2017.  The proposal will extend this to a later date.  Currently, we do not have any additional information about the timeline for this.  We will let you know as additional information, including a proposed extension date, is available.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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