White House officials announced this week that President Obama intends to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Many states and local governments already have laws, applicable to all employers, banning this type of discrimination. Last year, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would have prohibited this type of discrimination against all workers in the United States, but the bill stalled in the House.
Obama’s executive order would protect up to sixteen million employees working for employers with federal contracts. In the meantime, federal contractor employers may wish to consider reviewing their non-discrimination and non-retaliation policies to ensure that sexual orientation and gender identity are explicitly covered.
$10.10 Minimum Wage for Employees of Federal Contractors
Seeking to fulfill President Obama’s executive order (issued in February), the Labor Department proposed a rule this week to raise the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors to $10.10 an hour.
The wage increase would benefit about 200,000 workers, an estimate that was not available when the executive order was announced. If enacted, the rate would apply to contracts issued on or after Jan. 1, 2015. The DOL is expected to issue the final rule on October 1, 2014.
President Barack Obama announced today that he is directing the Department of Labor to propose a rule making legally married, same-sex couples eligible for benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act in all fifty states regardless of whether they live in a state that recognizes their marital status.
The Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical purposes. Without the regulatory changes, gay couples cannot receive federal benefits in states that do not recognize their marriages. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in nineteen states and the District of Columbia.
Obama’s announcement comes as a precursor to the Justice Department’s announcement this afternoon of findings from their yearlong review of how the landmark 2013 Supreme Court Windsor decision (that held that the survivor of a same-sex couple could claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses) affects federal rights and obligations linked to marriage and spousal rights and benefits. It is expected that, in almost all instances, same-sex married couples will receive the same federal benefits and obligations as their heterosexual counterparts, regardless of where they live. The two exceptions are Social Security and veterans benefits, which are determined by the law where the couples live. Obama, and gay and civil rights groups, are pressing lawmakers to extend these federal benefits to same-sex couples too.
If you are like most employers, you have been diligently revising your health benefit plans and working with your insurance providers to make sure your Summary Plan Descriptions comply with the Affordable Care Act. After those revisions are in place, if your handbook and intranet contain benefits-related information, you will need to make revisions there too.
For example, if you exclude “part-time” employees from your health plan, make sure to define that exclusion in your handbook. If your definition of “part-time” is different for health benefits than it is for other purposes (hours, compensation, or vacation for example), be sure to make a clear distinction and consider using a term other than “part-time” when referring to health benefits to avoid possible confusion. The level of detail you include will depend on your preference, but as with other benefit plan discussions it is best to avoid heavily detailed information about your benefits in a handbook.
Any handbook or intranet description of benefits should include language that:
Emphasizes that the handbook only summarizes benefits and directs employees to plan documents for detailed information.
States that the plan documents control if there are inconsistencies between them and the handbook or intranet.
Makes it clear that eligibility for participation in any plan is governed by the terms of that plan’s documents and specifies whether or not a waiting period applies and what it is.
States that the benefits described in the handbook may be modified or discontinued at the company’s sole discretion.