Last Week in Congress: HR Legal Updates for May 4, 2020

Updated: May 25, 2020

During these unprecedented times, I felt that it would be a benefit to the HR community working in the United States to compile bills and legislation undergoing updates within the U.S. legal system. It's my hope that having knowledge of upcoming actions in advance is a way that we can all help better prepare for times of uncertainty. There's a lot to be said for arming yourself with knowledge and using that knowledge to develop informed strategies for the betterment of our employees and our workplaces.

As a note, I do my best to provide unbiased updates to provide you with a bipartisan view and so you can decide what is/isn't impactful for you. My goal is not to tell you what to think but provide you with information so you can decide specific actions for yourself! With that said, I will typically indicate whether something would or would not be beneficial for HR professionals and why.

Legal updates that happened over the course of last week include:

H.R. 6560: UNITE Act of 2020

Apr 21, 2020 — Introduced

  • This bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and 2 other committees which will consider it before sending it to the House floor for consideration.

  • Key takeaways from the UNITE Act are:

  1. Federal agencies are being asked to mobilize individuals to help combat COVID-19 by expanding volunteer opportunities with AmeriCorp, FEMA, and the Peace Corps.

  2. Volunteers who were previously working with AmeriCorp and the Peace Corps who were involuntarily terminated on March 15, 2020, would be reinstated as soon as the UNITE Act is signed into action. Both organizations would also be given authorization to recruit the maximum amount of volunteers as allowed by law. An additional budget is also suggested but will likely change during the review phase of this act.

  3. FEMA would see an increase in the number of total approved headcount.

  4. Volunteerism is heavily encouraged, especially for those citizens and companies uniquely positioned to assist with healthcare needs and any unemployed persons.

  5. Providing assistance for child-care and tutoring/teaching support in low-income areas, including remote technology assistance.

  6. Providing resources for veterans, the homeless, the elderly, and other individuals who are among the most vulnerable during the current health emergency.

  7. Underemployed and unemployed persons are heavily encouraged to volunteer with AmeriCorps agencies and the Peace Corps.

  • Although this act has a long way to go before it can be approved, HR professionals would benefit from thinking through how they will be handling potential changes in the labor force, especially if they recently hired individuals who are now underemployed and if they have implemented any RIFs. Now is a good time to consider how your company plans to integrate employees back into the workforce after they've spent time volunteering. Employees should not be penalized for volunteering and it is possible that there will be further recommendations/acts implemented that will provide employer guidance on this topic.

  • This bill has a 27% chance of being enacted as it is currently written.

H.R. 6559: COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act of 2020

Apr 21, 2020 — Introduced

  • This bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor and House Committee on Energy and Commerce which will consider it before sending it to the House floor for consideration.

  • The main purpose of this bill is to require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to promote an emergency temporary standard to protect employees from occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). It would also serve to require OSHA to promote a permanent standard to protect certain employees from occupational exposure to COVID-19. These standards would apply to health care sector employees, paramedic and emergency medical services employees, and other employees identified as having an elevated risk for exposure.

  • This has the potential to not only impact companies operating in the Health and Human Services sector, but those operating in the healthcare supply chain as well. As a result, there could be an increase in the number of employees needed to fulfill the components of this act. There would also be an increase in the need for Risk and Safety related employees to undergo related training to ensure compliance.

  • This bill has a 5% chance of being enacted as it is currently written. As it's in the initial stage of the process, this is likely to change in the coming weeks.

H.R. 266: Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act

Apr 24, 2020 — Enacted — Signed by the President

  • This bill adds amendments to the CARES Act previously voted into action in March. Specifically, the amount allocated for small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been increased (from $3.5 trillion to 6.6 trillion) so that more businesses may be able to receive small business loans under the PPP.

  • Additional funds have also been allocated for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), from $10 trillion to 20 trillion.

  • Agricultural enterprises with less than 500 employees have also been specifically included in this amendment where they were excluded before. This is good news for agricultural enterprises as the summer months are expected to have massive negative impacts as COVID-19 continues to impact business operations and staffing levels.

  • The major takeaways from this amendment are the increases in what entities are now eligible for COVID-19 related business loans and the increases in the total amounts set aside for economic relief initiatives. HR partners should work closely with finance employees to amend budgets and communicate changes with employees. You may also now be eligible for an EIDL if you weren't before and should review/resubmit previous applications if you were denied based on the earlier federal budget allocations.

H.Res. 935: Establishing a Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis as a select investigative subcommittee of the Committee on Oversight and Reform

Apr 23, 2020 — Simple Resolution Agreed To

  • I've included this mostly as an FYI in case your company keeps track of reports/documentation related to government subcommittees, but also because many of the areas where oversight is needed will likely fall to HR to deal with should an audit or investigation ensue.

  • The purpose of this subcommittee is to investigate actions of fraud, emergency preparedness, transparency of taxpayer dollar usage related to COVID-19, economic impact, whistleblower protections, and many other areas. To see the full list, click on the hyperlink above.

H.R. 6322: Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020

Apr 28, 2020 — Enacted — Signed by the President

  • This bill specifically speaks to payments due to veterans attending school during the COVID-19 school shut downs to include work-study program payments, housing allowances, and payments for education.

  • Although not directly related HR functions (unless payroll rolls up under HR at your entity), this does have an impact on payroll and financial aid departments at higher education entities.

  • Key takeaways from this bill are to consider how a reduction in payments to veterans enrolled at your school may be financially impacted and may need to take on additional employment outside of work-study programs. There is also a potential for a reduction in veteran student enrollments for the coming fall semester should the COVID-19 shutdown continue throughout the coming months. This will potentially cause a reduction in budget that will impact approved headcount numbers, so be diligent in keeping up with how your department would respond should this occur!

If you're like me and enjoy staying up-to-date and take on a more active role in HR-related advocacy actions, sign up for the SHRM Advocacy team! We do great work and help represent the best interests of both employees and employers.

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As always, if you ever want to see a full listing of what's happening and when, take a look at the Gov Tracker page: