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Important Executive Order Updates

Content courtesy of People 2.0
In a short weeks’ time, President Biden has taken swift steps to address both worker and employer programs with significant and immediate impact. Through various executive orders, the Biden team intends to immediately address items such as the continuation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), federal worker rights, immigration plans, and minimum wage. While still evolving daily, below we provide the most recent movements and updates that will have an impact on American workers and employers. 

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) 
One of President Biden’s first orders was to reinstate and expand the paid leave provided by the FFCRA. The FFCRA’s mandatory paid leave provisions expired on December 31, 2020; however, Congress extended the tax credit provisions provided to covered employers who voluntarily continued the leave. Biden’s proposed legislation would include:   Reinstate paid leave requirements and expand coverage to almost all employers, including those with more than 500 and less than 50 employees, which the original FFCRA legislation did not require. Additionally, the expanded FFCRA would be extended to healthcare workers and first responders, who were also excluded from the expired FFCRA bill.   Expand paid sick leave and family medical leave to 14 weeks for the same and original reasons included in the FFCRA, and now to include time off to get the COVID-19 vaccine.   Provide a maximum paid leave benefit of $1,400 per week for eligible workers. This would provide full wage replacement to workers earning up to $73,000 annually.   Reimburse employers with less than 500 employees for the full cost of the leave by extending the tax credits and reimburse state and local governments for the cost of the leave. Currently, President Biden does not address tax credits for employers with more than 500 employees.   Extend emergency paid sick leave until September 30, 2021.   The executive order as written by President Biden is not final and is expected to be debated over the next few weeks, and it is likely to emerge slightly different than stated above. People 2.0 will be monitoring the paid leave bill closely and will provide timely updates and impacts to our clients and workforce. Please continue to reference the COVID-19 Toolkit for applicable state-mandated paid sick leave laws.  

Minimum Wage  
The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 follows through on one of President Biden’s priorities for the aid package and mirrors a bill that passed in the House in 2019. It would phase in the hike from the current $7.25 federal minimum wage to $9.50 this year and the full $15.00 by 2025.  The proposed bill would also raise the tipped wage and youth wage minimums, by phasing both out by 2027.  Additionally, federal contractors will also be required to pay their employees a minimum wage of $15.00 per hour, which he is expected to pursue by the end of President Biden’s first 100 days. 

Immigration Plan 
Within his first days, President Biden unveiled legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship for the nearly 12 million undocumented “Dreamers” as well as those under temporary protected status by offering expedited green card eligibility. Through an executive order, Biden also reinstated the DACA program and put an end to travel restrictions in 13 countries. The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 as proposed would aim to do the following:   Clear the employment-based visa backlog, such as higher wages for H-1B workers, eliminate per-country visa caps and expand work authorization for spouses of H-1B visa holders.  Make staying in the U.S. easier for graduates of U.S. universities who have earned advanced science, technology, engineering, and math degrees.   Improve access to green cards, whereas, undocumented immigrants would have a clear five-year path to permanent residency by meeting certain criteria. Largely addressed in the legislation, is a faster road to legalization for the approximately 1.3 million “Dreamers” who came to America as children as part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  Increase penalties for employers of seasonal foreign workers who violate labor laws.   The above proposals are not final and still need Congressional approval.  

Federal Collective Bargaining 
President Biden signed an executive order to restore the collective bargaining power and rights for federal workers. Under the Trump administration, a May 2018 order restricted federal collective bargaining and mandated strict parameters for negotiating bargaining agreements. The President is also directing his administration to start the work that would allow him to issue an Executive Order within the first 100 days that requires federal contractors to pay a $15.00 minimum wage and provide emergency paid leave to workers, which they are not currently covered by. 

In addition to the above, President Biden has unveiled his American Rescue Plan which would extend and expand unemployment benefits to workers affected by the pandemic. The proposal would offer unemployment benefits to workers who refuse unsafe working conditions, an area that wasn’t clearly defined in the CARES Act. As written, the President is asking the Department of Labor to consider clarifying that workers have a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that will jeopardize their health and if they do so, they will still qualify for unemployment insurance. The American Rescue Plan would also provide unemployed workers pay for training and college so they can find more suitable work in the future.  
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