According to information published by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the latest regulatory plans differ from those issued in the past in that they do not include information on regulations that are either longer-term or in the pre-rule stages. Longer-term items are listed separately. Regulatory action on these long-term items is not expected to occur until more than 12 months after publication of the agenda.
Department of Labor
According to the DOL’s statement of regulatory priorities, the agency will continue to implement rules pursuant to its “Plan/Prevent/Protect” regulatory and enforcement strategy that will require businesses to establish and enforce plans for identifying and remedying labor law violations. According to the agency, employers “who fail to take these steps to comprehensively address the risks, hazards, and inequities in their workplaces will be considered out of compliance with the law and, may be subject to remedial action.” It will also undertake review of a number of existing rules to determine if more efficient and less burdensome regulatory alternatives are available. A complete list of rules the DOL plans to actively consider in the coming months can be found here. Highlights of the DOL’s regulatory priorities are as follows:
Of the 60 DOL rules at the pre, proposed, and final rule stages, 23 are under active consideration at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In addition to targeting specific hazards, OSHA announced that it is “focusing on systematic processes that will modernize the culture of safety in America's workplaces and retrospective review projects that will update regulations and reduce burdens on regulated communities.” OSHA is in the process of evaluating the need for rules governing standards for bloodborne pathogens and infectious diseases in healthcare and other related high-risk environments. OSHA plans to issue a proposed standard on crystalline silica exposure in February 2012.
Also under development is a proposed rule implementing a new injury and illness prevention program (I2P2). OSHA describes the I2P2 rulemaking as the prototype for the Department's Plan/Prevent/Protect strategy. As discussed in the DOL’s statement of regulatory priorities, this proposal
will explore requiring employers to provide their employees with opportunities to participate in the development and implementation of an injury and illness prevention program, including a systematic process to proactively and continuously address workplace safety and health hazards. This rule will involve planning, implementing, evaluating, and improving processes and activities that promote worker safety and health hazards. OSHA has substantial evidence showing that employers that have implemented similar injury and illness prevention programs have significantly reduced injuries and illnesses in their workplaces.
According to the agenda, the agency intends to convene the Small Business Advocacy Review panel on this regulation this month.
The agency also has proposed changes to its reporting system for occupational injuries and illnesses that it contends “would enable a more efficient and timely collection of data and would improve the accuracy and availability of the relevant records and statistics.” OSHA is scheduled to complete its review of public comments on the proposal in May of this year.
OSHA also intends to issue final rules governing procedures for processing whistleblower retaliation complaints under various whistleblower statutes under the agency’s jurisdiction, including those created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the Affordable Care Act.
A final rule on a revised Hazard Communication Standard is also anticipated to be issued in February of this year. OSHA is embarking on a review of its chemical standards, beginning with developing a request for information seeking input from the public to help the agency identify effective ways to address occupational exposure to chemicals.
Notably, regulations addressing occupational exposure to beryllium and food flavorings containing diacetyl and diacetyl substitutes, a standard for combustible dust, and a rule revising occupational injury and illness recording and reporting requirements to include a column for musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are now considered longer-term regulatory efforts with no set issue date.
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) intends to issue a number of proposed and final rules governing contractor affirmative action and nondiscrimination requirements. A proposed rule revising construction contractor affirmative action requirements is slated to be released in April 2012. The OFCCP plans to propose new sex discrimination guidelines by this time period as well. According to the agency, current guidelines are “more than 30 years old and warrant a regulatory lookback.” In April 2012, the OFCCP plans to issue a proposal “to create sex discrimination regulations that reflect the current state of the law in this area.”
The agency is still considering comments it solicited regarding plans for a new compensation data collection tool “to identify contractors likely to violate” sex- and race-based compensation discrimination laws, as well as those it receives in response to its proposed rule governing affirmative action and nondiscrimination obligations of contractors and subcontractors regarding individuals with disabilities. The OFCCP issued the proposed rule on this topic in December 2011.
By July 2012, the agency plans to issue a final rule on revised contractor affirmative action requirements for veterans.
The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) will focus its regulatory efforts on implementing provisions of the Affordable Care Act, as well as “expand[ing] disclosure requirements, substantially enhancing the availability of information to employee benefit plan participants and beneficiaries and employers, and strengthening the retirement security of America's workers.”
The agency also intends to issue rules “in a number of areas including pension benefit statements, participant education, and fiduciary guidance.” Among other regulatory items, the EBSA plans to re-propose a rule that would clarify who constitutes a “fiduciary” under ERISA when providing investment advice to retirement plans and other employee benefit plans. The revised proposal is expected to be issued in May 2012. After withdrawing the initial proposal, the EBSA in September 2011 announced that it had decided to re-propose this rule.
With respect to pension benefit statements, the EBSA “is working on a proposed rule under ERISA section 105 that would require or facilitate the presentation of a participant's accrued benefits; i.e., the participant's account balance, as a lifetime income stream of payments, in addition to presenting the benefits as an account balance.” This proposal is expected to be released by June 2012.
EBSA will be finalizing amendments to the disclosure requirements applicable to plan investment options, including Qualified Default Investment Alternatives, to better ensure that participants understand the operations and risks associated with investments in target date funds. In addition, EBSA will be issuing a final rule addressing the requirement that administrators of defined benefit pension plans annually disclose the funding status of their plan to the plan's participants and beneficiaries. Final rules on target date disclosures and annual funding notices are slated for release in April and May of this year, respectively.
The agency also is planning to propose changes to the rules governing the internal claims and appeals process. EBSA recently proposed a rule that would implement reporting requirements for multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs) and certain other entities that offer or provide health benefits for employees of two or more employers. The proposal amends existing reporting rules to incorporate new requirements enacted as part of Affordable Care Act and to more clearly address the reporting obligations of MEWAs that are ERISA plans.
In June 2011 the Office of Labor Management Standards (OLMS) issued a proposed rule regarding employer and consultant “persuader activity” reporting under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA). Specifically, the DOL proposed to broaden the scope of reportable activities by substantially narrowing its interpretation of the “advice exemption” in Section 203(c) of the LMRDA. According to the agency’s regulatory agenda, the OLMS plans to issue a final rule on this matter by August 2012. If the proposal is finalized, employers (and their advisors, including legal counsel) will have to treat activities that have not been reportable for the past 50 years as now subject to reporting requirements, which potentially could result in substantial interference with an employer’s attorney-client relationship, disrupt an employer’s ability to obtain legal advice when confronted by union campaigns, and have a chilling effect on employer free speech during such campaigns. Rulemaking seeking changes to the Form LM-21, Receipts and Disbursements Report, which is required pursuant to section 203(b) of LMRDA, is slated for long-term action with no set date. The rulemaking will propose mandatory electronic filing for Form LM-21 filers, and it will review the layout of the Form LM-21 and its instructions, including the detail required to be reported.
In past regulatory agendas the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division had stated that it would issue a proposed rule that would update the recordkeeping regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) “in order to enhance the transparency and disclosure to workers of their status as the employer's employee or some other status, such as an independent contractor, and if an employee, how their pay is computed” and to “clarify that the mandatory manual preparation of ‘homeworker’ handbooks applies only to employers of employees performing homework in the restricted industries.’ According to the current agenda, it appears the WHD has put this “Right to Know” rulemaking effort on the back burner, as no date for the proposal’s issuance has been set.
The agency’s regulatory agenda also includes changes to the application of the FLSA to domestic service. The comment period on the proposed rule ends February 27, 2012. According to the agenda, this month the Department plans to propose amendments to the regulations implementing the Family and Medical Leave Act to incorporate amendments made by the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2010 and the Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The EEOC’s statement of regulatory priorities includes only one substantive item: “Disparate Impact and Reasonable Factors Other Than Age Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.” This rule purports to clarify the meaning of the “reasonable factors other than age” (RFOA) defense used against an Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) claim and the disparate impact burden of proof under the ADEA. In Smith v. City of Jackson, the U.S. Supreme Court held that disparate impact claims were cognizable under the ADEA, and that an employer could use RFOA as a defense against such a claim. To that end, in March 2008, the EEOC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) regarding disparate impact claims under the ADEA. In this NPRM, the EEOC asked whether more information was needed on the meaning of RFOA in this context. In light of the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Lab, in which the Court held that the employer bears the burden of production and persuasion when using a RFOA defense in an ADEA case, and comments it received from its NPRM, the EEOC issued a new NPRM to address the scope of the RFOA defense in February 2010. According to the EEOC’s agency rule list, a final regulation on this topic was scheduled to be issued by the end of 2011. The agency approved by a 3-2 vote a final draft of this rule in November 2011. The final rule currently is under review by the Office of Management and Budget.
The EEOC also intends to issue a proposed rule that would update its race and ethnicity data collection method to conform with current reporting instructions for the EEO-1 Report, making employee self-identification the preferred method for collecting race and ethnic data on employees. This proposal as well as final rule amending its current Title VII and ADA recordkeeping regulations to address recordkeeping obligations under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) are expected to be released shortly.
National Labor Relations Board
In December, the National Labor Relations Board issued a final rule that will radically change representation election procedures. The initial proposal contained even more extensive changes. The regulatory agenda notes that the Board is “continuing to deliberate on the rest of the proposed amendments and expects to address them in a subsequent final rule.” The release date for a final rule incorporating the omitted representation election proposals remains “to be determined.”
Additional information on the unified and regulatory agendas can be found here.
Photo credit: istockphoto