Human resources executives are struggling to design a workplace for the changing economy, even as they face challenges such as uncertainty over Federal and state policies, the rise of temporary and contract work, and pressure to meet the sometimes conflicting expectations of multiple generations of workers, a report published by HR Policy Association has observed. Released on April 25, the report “Workplace 2020,” represents the views of chief human resource officers of major companies that operate in the U.S. and globally on the important issues facing the workplace today, and in the years ahead.

A major focus of the report is on changes in employment relationships. Researchers asserted that as alternatives to traditional employment arrangements continue to grow, attempts to expand the concept of “joint employer” and narrow the definition of “independent contractor” are impeding positive outcomes for workers. The authors therefore proposed a safe harbor for companies that would, for example, allow contract and temporary agency employees to take advantage of the company’s on-site day care facilities.

The report also examined how companies are coping with fulfilling their commitments to diversity and inclusion, noting that employers generally pursue these strategies for business and ethical reasons, regardless of any government mandates. The authors argued that government agencies should recognize the attempts made by companies to address the broader cultural aspects of these goals in enforcing these requirements.

In addition, the report observed that while large companies are at the forefront of providing generous leave benefits, they are increasingly challenged by a patchwork of administrative requirements regarding workplace flexibility under state and local mandates. Researchers therefore proposed the establishment of a Federal standard that would enable companies with generous paid leave benefits to operate under a single set of rules.

On the issue of immigration, the report noted that there is a global war for talent at all levels, and that countries are competing to attract and retain the human capital essential to a culture of productivity and innovation. The authors warned that arbitrary and inflexible caps on the number of annual visas for highly skilled workers ignore these market realities. They therefore suggested that foreign students who acquire advanced degrees in science and technology disciplines at American universities be given a path to U.S. citizenship.

Regarding retirement, the report observed that many senior employees in today’s workforce have both the ability and desire to have a longer career, but that legal obstacles prohibit employees from collecting a defined benefit retirement check while continuing to work for the same employer. The authors called for Federal legislation enabling older employees to collect defined benefit plan retirement income, while remaining on the job.

Finally, on the issue of health care, the report pointed out that 177 million Americans receive health care benefits through employers, and that amid the ongoing policy debate over health care reform, this workplace-based network of coverage is one of the few aspects of the U.S. health care system that is still working well. The authors therefore recommended that the tax exemption for employer-sponsored health insurance be protected.

From Benefit Trends Newsletter, Volume 60, Issue 6

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