Bush’s Employment Law Legacy

Since this is the last day of President George W. Bush’s presidency, I thought it appropriate to look back and see what employment laws have been passed while he has been in office. While generally considered lax on enforcement of employment laws (except with regard to employing illegal immigrants), there have been several sweeping changes that affected the employee/employer relationship in the last eight years.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was amended drastically in 2008. I have written extensively about the amendments on this blog, which you can read by clicking here. Surprisingly for an administration that was considered pro-business, these amendments that Bush signed were very favorable to employees and could mean a substantial increase in the number of lawsuits against companies for alleged disability discrimination.

The Family and Medical Leave Act was also amended to expand the act to cover military families, not only when a servicemember is wounded and needs care, but also to allow family members to take 12 weeks off whenever a servicemember is called up. In addition to this law, signed by Pres. Bush in January 2008, his Department of Labor finalized substantial changes to the regulations affecting the FMLA. Most of the changes were applauded by businesses for making the complicated FMLA easier to administer.

Pres. Bush signed legislation requiring Incremental increases to the minimum wage, which increased to $5.85 in the summer of 2007, $6.55 in July 2008, and will be finalized at $7.25 on July 24, 2009. Traditionally, businesses have protested minimum wage increases, saying that the economic impact on small businesses is too great to be passed on and negatively drags down profits. I have seen no study linking the current economic crisis to the minimum wage increases that began in the summer of 2007, but the timing of the increases and the economy going into the toilet is worth considering.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, (“SOX”) was signed into law after Enron collapsed, taking the retirement accounts of thousands along with it. Whistleblower protection was created for employees of publicly-traded companies who report financial shenanigans at these companies.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”), which applies to all employers and group health plans, anticipates a day when employees will be routinely screened for health information through rapidly developing genetic testing techniques. GINA, passed in 2008, prohibits employers from using genetic information to discriminate. It’s main affect at the present time is to require all employers to add “genetic information” to their EEO policies setting out the protected classes (race, national origin, sex, age, etc.) against whom they will not discriminate.

There were many other laws passed during President Bush’s time in the White House that affected the employment relationship, such as the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (“FACTA”), which made it easier for employers to perform background checks on applicants, but also added the burden of assuring that all unnecessary employee information is shredded or destroyed so that identity thieves cannot steal social security numbers or other sensitive data.

Overall, businesses faced many new requirements in the field of employment law during the Bush years. However, as I have previewed for you before, the employment law landscape is in for even bigger changes with a new administration and Congress. Click here for more information on the anticipated legislation. I suggest you check back on this blog frequently and I will try to keep you updated on the new laws that will affect your employment relationships the most.

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