2018 SHRM Annual Conference – HR Public Policy Overview

One of the first sessions that I added to my 2018 SHRM Annual Conference schedule was “Tsunami or Wave: The Washington Outlook for HR Public Policy” that was being presented by SHRM Vice President for Government Affairs, Michael P. Aitken. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long after arriving in Chicago, as this was the very first session that I attended at the conference.

My interest in this session, which was a unique session in many ways from every other session offered over the three-day human resources conference, was twofold. First, besides my passion for human resources, I have been very active and involved in public policy, the legislative process, and politics for many years and second, as a SHRM Advocacy Captain for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District and Director for Government Affairs for my chapter (Greater Madison Area SHRM), the information that Mike would be presenting would be of interest to both the SHRM HR Advocates in my home district and to my chapter Government Affairs Committee when I returned home.

I’ve heard Mike Aitken several times in the past, and he never fails to disappoint. He has the pulse on all of the happenings in Washington, DC that has or may have a direct impact upon our human resources profession.  During the 90-minute mega session, Mike would cover a large number of topics, but would do so in an easy to understand approach for all in attendance.

While it would be impossible to encapsulate the full presentation in a readable blog post, here are five issue takeaways that were discussed during this session:

Government Remains a Top Problem for the U.S.

Likely to no one’s surprise, recent Gallup polls indicate that “dissatisfaction with government” remains a top concern for U.S. citizens. Although trending up slightly, President Donald Trump’s approval ratings remain in the mid 40% range while approval ratings for the U.S. Congress are much lower, in the teens. While the midterm elections remain about four months away, this sentiment of dissatisfaction will surely impact voters as they head to the polls in November. Of note, since 1862, the President’s Party has lost seats in the House in 36 of the last 39 midterm elections. A change in House and/or Senate majorities would certainly impact federal legislation in the upcoming Congress as well as the direction of many public policies.

Talent Development Remains an Important Priority for the U.S. Workforce

As human resources professionals, we are all keenly aware of the issue and challenges surrounding talent development, acquisition and retention. With national unemployment rates at record lows and with an emerging technologically based workplace, developing and maintaining talent pipelines will be at the forefront in most organizational strategic plans. The White House has been focused on several areas to address talent development which include: apprenticeships, credential-based hiring, and the hiring of the formerly incarcerated, individuals with disabilities and veterans. SHRM has been recognized by the Trump Administration with the appointment of SHRM President and CEO, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. to the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In this role, Taylor hopes to create a stronger connection between these higher education institutions and employers. In Congress, SHRM has been in support of legislation to assist with the expansion of employer-provided education assistance benefits to help employers attract and retain employees. Two SHRM supported bills to watch this legislative session are: “Employer Participation in Student Loan Assistance Act-H.R. 795” and “Expansion of Section 127 Limit-S. 2007/H.R. 4135”.

#MeToo and the Workplace

The worldwide #MeToo movement has reinforced the need for all organizations to review their organizational culture and policies to ensure that their workplaces are free from sexual harassment. A January 2018 SHRM survey reported that 36% of all HR professionals had at least one employee make a report of sexual harassment at their organization within the previous 12 months. Of those HR professionals surveyed, 36% reported an increase in sexual harassment allegations. In this same survey, 94% of HR professionals reported that their organization has a documented sexual harassment policy. 22% of non-manager employees surveyed were not sure if their organization has a sexual harassment policy. SHRM has taken a proactive lead in addressing this important issue by:

  • Providing a dedicated web page and educational programs.
  • Educating members of Congress on the issue.
  • Testifying before the California legislature (SHRM CEO and 3 SHRM members testified) at a hearing titled: “Best Practices for Culture Change on Sexual Harassment.
  • Delivering training to state legislators through the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)

Paid Leave Mandates Gain Momentum

In 2018, more states and municipalities have approved measures to create mandatory paid leave policies for employers within their respective jurisdictions. As each new policy addition contains a variety of conditions, requirements, and benefits; it is becoming more challenging for HR professionals to manage, particularly for those organizations with multiple work locations. SHRM helped to develop the “Workflex in the 21st Century Act of 2017 – H.R.4219” which is legislation that would expand paid leave and workplace flexibility options for all employees. If passed into law, employers would have the voluntary option to participate by offering a minimum threshold of paid leave and a flexible work option which would then satisfy any state and local paid leave laws and federal contractor requirements. There are only a few months left in the current session of Congress, but SHRM remains hopeful that congressional action will still take place this fall.

Federal Immigration Reform

Immigration has dominated the national news of late, and many of these issues have a direct impact on employers and the country’s workforce. The Trump Administration has stepped up their review and audit of employment-based visas, mandatory E-Verify remains a possibility within any comprehensive immigration reform plan, and the Immigration and Customs and Enforcement Agency (ICE) plans a dramatic increase in employer I-9 audits throughout the remainder of this year. Add to this the inability of Congress to resolve the issue of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and immigration will likely to continue to impact organizations, workers, and midterm voters for the remainder of 2018.

These are just of a few of the many public policy issues that have and will impact the work of HR professionals in our workplaces. While these may not seem to be your “typical HR issues” and are not areas that we often encounter on a daily basis, it is helpful to know that the SHRM Government Affairs Team has a team of experts that monitor, interpret and communicate public policy information to the HR community as developments arise. SHRM also remains active in the development of legislation and advocates for what they consider to be common sense, workplace policies.

If you want to keep informed on public policy issues that impact the HR profession and your workplace, I encourage you to visit the SHRM Policy Action Center at www.advocacy.shrm.org where you will find more detailed information about these key issues as well as many other current public policy issues. From this site, you can also download SHRM’s 2018 Guide to Public Policy Issues. In addition, those that are interested can also sign up as a SHRM “HR Advocate” to receive regular updates and if you wish, participate directly in the policymaking process through direct communication with your elected officials.

In closing, I want to thank Mike Aitken and his entire SHRM Government Affairs team for a great presentation at the 2018 SHRM Annual Conference, as well as the work that they perform on a daily basis to keep us informed to help us move our profession forward together.

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