Monday marked Labor Day in the United States. This week, we take a closer look at several pressing employment-related issues here and abroad.
DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) released a series of opinion letters to help employees understand their rights and ensure that employers have the information they need to comply with federal labor laws. The letters addressed compliance under both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Among the issues addressed, the WHD clarified that a live organ donor's surgery can qualify as a serious health condition under the FMLA. In addition, workers' time spent voluntarily attending benefit fairs and certain wellness activities such as biometric screenings, wellness activities, and benefits fairs does not constitute compensable worktime under the FLSA. The WHD also addressed potential overtime exemptions for employees who work in movie theaters that serve food, and sales organizations that sell internet retail services.
SENATE CONFIRMATION HEARINGS
Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee opened confirmation hearings on President Trump's nominee for associate justice to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh. Judge Kavanaugh sits on the Appellate Court for the D.C. Circuit, a court that regularly reviews suits challenging the decisions of Washington-based agencies, including the Department of Labor, OSHA, and the National Labor Relations Board. Employee's rights advocates are watching the confirmation proceedings closely, citing Judge Kavanaugh's record of opinions and dissents limiting the authority of these agencies. The hearings are expected to last three to four days, so we'll stay tuned.
Later today, Bernie Sanders (D-VT) will introduce legislation that would establish a 100 percent tax equal to the amount of federal benefits received by their low-wage workers. Senator Sanders, who has campaigned for president on a platform of employee rights, seeks to have corporations comprised of 500 or more employees, "pay a living wage and curb roughly $150 billion in taxpayer dollars that go to funding federal assistance programs for low-wage workers each year." We'll keep tabs on this issue this fall.
A WORLDWIDE VIEW
Finally this Labor week, we look across the Pacific. Singapore's Minister for Manpower convened a comprehensive 10-year plan to bring Singapore towards Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) excellence. The plan depends on three transformations: transparency on companies' WSH performance; upgrading existing WSH professionalism through coursework; and advanced technology to, such as data analytics, sensors, Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, and automation, advance WSH outcomes in Singapore's WSH journey. And in Western Australia, Premier Mark McGowan is contemplating industrial manslaughter to improve on the region's growing frequency and severity of workplace accidents. We're keeping our eyes on labor issues, near and far.
A Look at Those Low Rates
The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) proposed to again drop workers' compensation rates in Florida. If the Office of Insurance Regulation approves NCCI's recommendation, workers compensation rates in Florida will go down 13.4 percent beginning next year. The NCCI said that claims for the program are being filed less frequently now than they have been in previous years, and fewer claims reflect a smaller overall need. Pundits expected a series of decisions by the Florida Supreme Court to push rates up, but according to the NCCI, the full effects of the cases will not be known for a few years.
ACROSS THE SOUTHEAST
The NCCI is also recommending a 19% rate reduction for Tennessee's voluntary and assigned-risk markets. This is one of the largest cuts in years, nationwide. If approved by the state Department of Commerce and Insurance, the reduction will take effect March 1, 2019, marking the 10th straight year of rate reductions for Tennessee. The neighboring North Carolina Rating Bureau proposed workers compensation insurance prospective advisory loss costs on the order of 15%, effective April 1, 2019, and applicable to new and renewal policies in the Tar Heel State. We'll continue to follow the interplay of claim frequency, severity, and rates in workers' compensation.
Making Our Way Around the Country
The State of Maine Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) enacted changes to the state's workers' compensation rules this week. The changes became effective on September 1, 2018. A copy of the new rule book is available here. Some of the rule changes include: permanent impairment to be determined using the fourth edition of the American Medical Association's Guide to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, employers shall file a first report of occupational injury or illness within seven days if a worker is injured but does not miss work, and physicians who treated the injured worker or examined the worker at the behest of the employer or insurer may now serve as an independent medical examiner.
This week Governor Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto on SB 904. This bill would have allowed medical providers to pursue the 1% per month interest penalty on unpaid workers' compensation medical bills in circuit court. Governor Rauner stated in his veto message that SB 904 would not "serve injured workers and would dramatically tip the balance in favor of medical providers in a system where Illinois has the second highest medical fee schedule in the country for overall professional services and the highest in the country for major surgery services." Leading insurance groups lauded the Governor's move to veto the bill. An override of the Governor's amendatory veto will require 36 votes in the Illinois Senate and 71 votes in the Illinois House. We'll be tracking the veto session of the Illinois General Assembly.
WORK WORTH DOING
Back to Labor Day. Always the first Monday in September in the United States, Labor Day is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It's a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. With due credit to Thomas Jefferson who said, "far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." We hope you had a restful holiday and are ready to hit ground running in your professional and personal pursuits. Thank you for taking us along your way.