Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hearing on Work-Life Balance Award Act held

A hearing on legislation that would establish an award for employers that recognize the importance of balancing work with family and personal obligations was held April 22 by the House Committee on Education and Labor. The Work-Life Balance Award Act (H.R. 4855), authored by Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and George Miller (D-CA), would create, through the Department of Labor, a bipartisan advisory board to develop the necessary criteria for employers that wish to qualify for the award. “It is unacceptable,” Woolsey said, “that our country, which is the number one economy in the world, can barely compete with developing nations in this arena. Workers should not have to choose between work and family.”

Stating that the introduction of this legislation was a great step, Woolsey added that it can be further improved by adding the minimal requirements for the advisory board to use in establishing its criteria for awardees. “For example,” she said, “the bill should identify certain work-life practices on which employers would be measured. While I do not have an exhaustive list, these policies could include paid sick leave to care of oneself or a sick family member and for the birth or adoption of a child; time off to attend children’s extracurricular activities and school conferences; telecommuting; job sharing, and on site-child care. While the bill requires the board to consider only those employers who are in compliance with all labor and employment laws, we certainly should consider the “whole company” as an example of a good employer, so an employer with wage and hour or OSHA citations may not qualify.”

EEOC Commissioner Victoria Lipnic, who noted that she was not testifying in her official capacity, offered the view that “any initiative that encourages voluntary efforts for employers to offer work-life policies that work best for their employees and meet their operational needs at the same time is worthwhile. I support such initiatives by private entities and as a matter of public policy. The ability of employers to have the creativity to adopt policies that work in their workplaces is critical to their ability to compete in our global economy.”

Testifying on behalf of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), China Miner Gorman called the measure “a common-sense bill to recognize and showcase those public and private organizations delivering benefit plans and policies that truly help their employees better balance their work and personal life obligations.” Gorman also urged Congress to consider other initiatives as H.R. 4855 moves forward, and said more can be done legislatively to encourage or create incentives for organizations to offer flexible work options, including paid leave, rather than imposing government mandates.

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