100 Days of the Biden Administration, Part II: Key Labor and Employment Policy Developments

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In its first 100 days in office, the Biden administration has advanced its policy priorities, many of which have involved repealing the policy accomplishments of the previous presidential administration. The Biden administration can be expected to advance its own proposals soon.

The first part of this two-part blog series focused on the Biden administration’s first 100 days and reviewed the administration’s legislative plans. The second part of the series addresses policy developments occurring at the executive branch agencies and independent agencies.

U.S. Department of Labor

Personnel Is Policy

On March 22, 2021, the U.S. Senate confirmed former Boston mayor and union official Martin Walsh as secretary of labor. While it is still early, many in the business community remain optimistic about Walsh’s willingness to listen to their concerns. As for other leadership positions at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the deputy secretary of labor nominee, Julie Su, and solicitor of labor nominee, Seema Nanda, have had their confirmation hearings but have not been voted on by the full Senate . Su runs California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency, while Nanda is an Obama-era DOL vet and former chief executive officer of the Democratic National Committee. If Su and Nanda are confirmed by the Senate, they will work with Walsh as the top three officials dictating policy at the DOL.

OSHA and Workplace Safety

  • Assistant secretary nominee. In early April 2021, President Joe Biden announced his intention to nominate Douglas L. Parker to be the assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Parker currently serves as chief of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).
  • OSHA emergency temporary standard. For months, workers’ advocates and Democrats have been calling on OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to protect workers from COVID-19. On January 21, 2021, President Biden doubled down on these demands when he issued an executive order instructing the DOL and OSHA to consider issuing an emergency temporary standard by March 15, 2021. On April 26, 2021, more than a month past the deadline, OSHA sent its draft ETS to OIRA for approval. Any final ETS could be impacted by recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recently eased mask requirements.
  • COVID-19 vaccine reactions. On April 20, 2021, OSHA issued new guidance on when an employer must record in its injury and illness logs an employee’s adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccination. In short, if an employer requires employees to get vaccinated, then any adverse action is “work-related” and, therefore, recordable.

Wage and Hour

  • Independent contractor rule. On May 6, 2021, the DOL rescinded its independent contractor rule, which had set forth a test for independent contractor status that focused on “the worker’s opportunity for profit or loss” due to individual initiative and investment. Although the rule was finalized on January 7, 2021, it never became effective.
  • Joint-employer rule. On March 12, 2021, the DOL proposed to rescind the Fair Labor Standards Act joint-employer rule that took effect in March 2020, but was subsequently vacated by a district judge in New York. The rule had set forth a four-factor test for determining joint-employer status.
  • Tip rule. While portions of the 2020 final tip rule went into effect on April 30, 2021, the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) delayed until December 31, 2021, the effective date of the provisions concerning civil money penalties and employees who perform tipped and non-tipped work.
  • Liquidated damages. On April 9, 2021, the WHD “return[ed] to pursuing pre-litigation liquidated damages” in lieu of litigation, after temporarily halting the practice in order to encourage economic recovery during the pandemic.
  • PAID program. The DOL discontinued the Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program, which the Trump administration initiated in 2018 to encourage employers to voluntarily correct certain underpayments to employees.

Federal Contractors and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)

  • OFCCP director. Jenny R. Yang, former chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is now the director of the OFCCP. Expect her to focus the agency on increased enforcement, particularly around compensation discrimination.
  • Minimum wage increase. On April 27, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order that will require covered federal contractors and subcontractors to pay employees a minimum of $15 per hour by January 2022.
  • Diversity and inclusion training. President Biden revoked Executive Order 13950, relating to federal contractors’ diversity and inclusion training efforts.
  • Religious exemption. The OFCCP proposed to rescind a December 2020 regulation that is intended to provide protections for religious organizations to “hire employees who will further their religious missions, thereby providing clarity that may expand the eligible pool of federal contractors and subcontractors.”

Office of Labor-Management Standards

The DOL subagency that “promotes labor-management transparency as well as labor union democracy and financial integrity” proposed to rescind a Trump-era rule that required increased financial disclosures from labor organizations.

Labor-Management Relations

Unprecedented Firing of NLRB GC

Within hours of being inaugurated, President Biden fired Peter Robb, the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel. Robb’s term wasn’t scheduled to expire until November 2021. This was an unprecedented decision, as NLRB general counsel are traditionally permitted to serve out their terms during changes in administrations. The move sends a message to stakeholders that the administration is going to be very aggressive in the traditional labor arena. It also allows the administration to begin “teeing up” cases in anticipation of taking full control of the Board by fall 2021.

A Republican Board. For Now.

Republicans will hold a majority on the NLRB through August 2021 because Board members’ terms are staggered. Expect a lot of political activity surround the Board during the late summer and early fall as President Biden tries to get his Board member nominees confirmed. The administration hopes that a Democratic-controlled Board can start enacting policy changes by the second half of the year.

Graduate Students

On March 15, 2021, the Board withdrew its regulatory proposal to exempt from the coverage of the National Labor Relations Act students who, in connection with their undergraduate and graduate studies, are financially compensated for the services they provide to private colleges or universities.

Contract Bar

On April 21, 2021, a bipartisan Board upheld its contract-bar doctrine, which bars union elections during the term of a collective bargaining agreement for up to three years.

Pending Matters

  • Uniform policies. The Board is reviewing the public feedback that it requested on its standard regarding employer uniform policies and whether they interfere with employees’ wearing of union insignia.
  • Employer investigations. The Board is also reviewing public feedback it requested on the issue of the proper standard to apply in situations in which employers question employees in the course of preparing defenses to unfair labor practice allegations.

 Immigration

USCIS Director Nominee

In mid-April 2021, President Biden announced his intent to nominate Ur Jaddou to be director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Jaddou previously served as USCIS chief counsel.

H-4 Work Authorization

On January 25, 2021, USCIS withdrew a Trump administration proposal that would have rescinded work authorization permits for dependent H-4 spouses.

“Executive Order on Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans

On February 2, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order to begin unwinding Trump-era immigration policies by directing the secretary of state, the attorney general, and the secretary of homeland security to “review existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and any other similar agency actions” that do not, among other things, “promote integration, inclusion, and citizenship, and … embrace the full participation of the newest Americans in our democracy.”

Public Charge Rule

The administration will no longer defend the public charge rule in the courts as it begins the process of repealing the regulation.

H-1B Wage Allocation Rule Postponed

On February 4, 2021, USCIS announced that it would postpone the effective date of its H-1B wage allocation selection rule until December 31, 2021. Published in the Federal Register on January 8, 2021, the rule was originally scheduled to go into effect on March 9, 2021.

H-1B Prevailing Wage Rule

The DOL’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) proposed to delay the effective date of the rule entitled “Strengthening Wage Protections for the Temporary and Permanent Employment of Certain Aliens in the United States.” The original regulation was finalized in the final days of the Trump administration and was set to go into effect on March 15, 2021. The ETA postponed the rule’s effective date until May 14, 2021, and is seeking a further delay to November 14, 2022.

Trump-Era Visa Bans

On February 24, 2021, President Biden revoked Proclamation 10014, issued in April 2020, which banned individuals from seeking entry to the United States on immigrant visas. In addition, the Trump administration’s Proclamation 10052, which banned individuals from entering the United States on certain nonimmigrant visas (such as H-1B and L-1), expired on March 31, 2021.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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