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Subcommittee Examines H.R. 4219, the Workflex in the 21st Century Act

Today, the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), held a hearing to examine H.R. 4219, the Workflex in the 21st Century Act. 

“The American workplace continues to evolve in many positive ways, reflecting changes in employer and employee needs, attitudes, and preferences.  Traditionally, competitive salaries and pay raises have been the primary ways for employers to attract and retain quality employees. While these recruiting tools are still important, more and more Americans have begun demanding flexible paid leave policies (including telework and other work arrangements),” said Chairman Walberg in his opening statement.

Introduced by Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA) in November 2017, the Workflex in the 21st Century Act would allow employers to offer their employees paid leave and a flexible work arrangement on a voluntary basis.

“The Workflex in the 21st Century Act is a win-win for businesses and their employees, and provides Americans with the flexibility they desire when it comes to striking the right work-life balance,” said Chairman Walberg.

Mr. Jon Breyfogle, a Principal at the Groom Law Group, gave members of the subcommittee an in-depth look at exactly how the bill would work within the framework of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).

“H.R. 4219 would give employers the voluntary option to establish a paid leave and flexible work benefit plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (‘ERISA’). The bill terms these benefit plans as ‘qualified flexible workplace arrangement plans.’ Employers that elect to offer such plans must meet a variety of minimum federal standards, and are subject to the overall regulatory and enforcement framework of ERISA,” Breyfogle said. 

“In order to qualify as a Workplace Plan, employers must offer both a compensable leave benefit and a workflex benefit (workflex options include programs like biweekly work, compressed work schedules, telework, job sharing, flexible scheduling and predictable scheduling),” Breyfogle continued.

These kinds of flexible work arrangements have become increasingly sought-after by employees who crave scheduling options beyond the traditional 9-5 work day.

Mr. Johnny Taylor, the President and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, explained, “[ W ]orkers are increasingly requesting flexible work arrangements that help them meet work and life demands. But outdated workplace rules and government-mandated leave requirements make it difficult for employers to provide important options for employees.”

Presently, 10 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 30 localities have imposed various sick leave mandates. This has resulted in a burdensome patchwork of requirements that differ from state to state, hindering many businesses’ ability to succeed and grow. 

“Our state laws change so much that I have to regularly hire an HR expert to make sure that my employee guidebook is accurate and that I am in compliance,” said Ms. Loreen Gilbert, President of WealthWise Financial Services. “My desire is to expand and have offices in multiple states across the country. However, as a small business owner, the thought of dealing with multiple state workplace rules and regulations has so far stopped me from opening offices in other states. If I could opt into federal legislation, such as this one, that would cover me across all states, that would give me the confidence to expand my business and employ workers across the country.”

Under the Workflex in the 21st Century Act, if an employer chose to offer his or her employees a qualifying benefits plan, then that employer would be exempt from complying with existing state and local paid leave mandates. The bill (which would provide more paid leave than all existing state paid leave mandates) would be a win-win for businesses and their employees.

Gilbert concluded her testimony by telling members, “This bill strikes the right balance between the flexibility needed by employees and the stability and consistency necessary to employers. Both employees and employers stand to benefit from this legislation.”

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