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Capitol Hill Update

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On Thursday, May 10, SHRM member Juanita Phillips, State Legislative Director for Alabama SHRM and Director of HR at Intuitive Research and Technology Corporation (INTUITIVE) in Huntsville, Ala., testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions at a hearing on workplace flexibility policies.

Phillips, pictured at right conversing with committee chairman Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) following the hearing, shared with the committee how INTUITIVE voluntarily provides a range of flexible benefits, including paid leave, that allow it to recruit and retain top workers. As a result of its program offerings, the small engineering and analytical services firm has received national awards, including being named the No. 2 “Best Small Company to Work for in the U.S.” in 2011 by the Great Place to Work Institute and being ranked No. 2 in the “Best for Vets Award” given by the Military Times/Edge magazine for 2012.

In her prepared statement, Phillips noted that legislative proposals such as the Healthy Families Act (S. 984), introduced by Chairman Harkin, would negatively affect her employer, as well as others across the country that proactively maintain flexible workplaces and offer programs such as paid leave. “We provide generous paid leave so that we can continue to be an employer of choice for employees and applicants in our area. What we do not want is a government-imposed paid leave mandate to take away our competitive edge over other employers.”  Phillips continued that “for flexible workplaces to be effective, they have to work for both the employee and the employer. What works at one organization may not be appropriate for another organization’s culture, business structure or industry.”

As currently drafted, the Healthy Families Act would require employers of 15 or more employees to provide 56 hours (seven days) of paid sick time each year. But the bill would disrupt current employer paid leave practices, Phillips testified. It would require all covered employers to amend or drop existing leave policies in order to comply, even those that already give more than seven days of sick leave or paid time off (PTO).

SHRM, co-chairs the National Coalition to Protect Family Leave, which is a broad-based group dedicated to protecting the integrity of the Family and Medical Leave Act. SHRM has maintained that all employers should be encouraged to provide paid leave for illness, vacation and personal days to accommodate the needs of employees and their families. In return for choosing to provide a certain minimum amount of paid leave, employers should be provided a “safe harbor” in which they are designated as satisfying federal, state and local requirements.
In addition to its advocacy work, SHRM has engaged in a significant effort to educate HR professionals and their organizations about the importance of effective and flexible workplaces. SHRM and its partner organization, the Families and Work Institute (FWI), have been strong proponents of the When Work Works nationwide initiative that promotes workplace flexibility.

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