June Message from Board Chair Scott Parrish
Each legislative session seems to add to the weight of employment regulations on businesses, and the 2019 legislative session is certainly no exception. OBI has been busy since January communicating to legislators about how different employment-related bills could impact the day-to-day operations of businesses across the state.
As the legislative session goes into its final few weeks, we have seen several employment bills make their way through the system and several are still in process. With a supermajority of Democrats in both chambers, we have found that organized labor and their partners have pursued ambitious employment law changes, putting OBI and our business association partners in a position of responding on many fronts to bills we know will impact how you run your businesses. This has made for a very busy session for our team members who watch employment law development.
OBI tries to engage in every employment issue we can. Sometimes we can support the changes that are being put forward, but there are also instances where we have no choice but to work with partners to kill bills we know will be detrimental to private-sector employers. Most often, though, we find we must push for reasonable negotiation that ensures the business point of view at least gets integrated – to the greatest extent possible – into bills we perhaps would not have supported from the start. Here’s how we look at these bills.
When We Support:
Occasionally, the Legislature gives us the opportunity to fix legislation that passed in previous sessions. This year, we have worked on SB 123, which makes technical fixes to the pay equity law so that employers can comply without unduly exposing themselves to liability. That bill is still in process and we hope to see it passed before the end of the session. We had also hoped to support bills to reform manufacturing overtime limits passed in 2017, but, unfortunately, legislative leaders were unwilling to engage in that conversation this year.
When We Negotiate:
OBI negotiates in two different kinds of cases: 1) when we evaluate a bill and determine that our members can live with the changes if the bill is modified, or 2) when we believe an issue is going to move forward whether we negotiate or not, and the impact to employers could be mitigated if we went to the table.
This year, the pregnancy and breastfeeding accommodation bills were prime examples of the first case. As introduced, these bills would have imposed far too great of a burden on daily business operations, so OBI worked with legislators to align the bills with the rest break and reasonable accommodation laws we all work with regularly in our businesses. With the changes OBI negotiated, employers will still have adjustments to make, but we should be able to incorporate the new laws into our regular practices.
Meanwhile, the paid family leave issue is an example of the second case where OBI would negotiate. Based on what we have seen in Washington, California and other states, we are fairly certain that a paid family leave proposal will almost certainly move in Oregon soon, either through legislative action or an initiative effort. In fact, costly measures were introduced during this 2019 legislative session. After talking to many members, we determined that ensuring there is employer input in how a paid family leave bill is structured would best protect employer interests, so we have spent several weeks working with legislative leadership to craft a plan that, we believe, will work better than what we might have gotten without our involvement. We still expect to see a paid family leave bill pass before the session concludes at the end of this month.
When We Oppose:
OBI opposes legislation when the risk to businesses is just too high. SB 726 was one such bill. As introduced and proposed by advocates, this bill would have made individual owners, presidents, partners and corporate officers personally liable for violations of employment law even if they had no direct knowledge of the violation. That risk was simply too great for businesses and for the business environment in Oregon, so OBI joined other business organizations to strongly oppose it. Fortunately, due in large part to this opposition, the bill was amended, eliminating the individual liability and narrowing other provisions. But even with these changes, we remain concerned about how the final bill will impact OBI’s member companies.
We opposed several other bills this year, finding there was no room to compromise because of the potential harm to our members. Among these was SB 379, which have limited the ability of employers to use drug testing and to discipline employees who test positive for marijuana. Others included HB 2818, which would have drastically expanded liability for employers for complaints alleging discrimination based on age, and HB 2498, which would have virtually eliminated independent contractor relationships for the vast majority of businesses. Those bills are now most likely dead.
At the end of the day we have to play the cards we are dealt, and, truthfully, this has been a very challenging session for business interests. Given the Legislature’s make up, and the priorities for the year, we have had to fight the battles we can win and be realistic about how much we can stop. But, even with these challenges, OBI and our staff are working hard to make sure the voice of business is heard. We appreciate your support.