Election 2012 fallout: What the results mean for employersNow that the nation has had time to recover from 2012’s seemingly endless stream of political ads and campaign events, it’s time to start thinking about what the voting day results mean.
By: By Rebecca Bentz/J. J. Keller & Associates Inc., Superior Telegram
Now that the nation has had time to recover from 2012’s seemingly endless stream of political ads and campaign events, it’s time to start thinking about what the voting day results mean.
Voter choices on several issues and races will have a direct effect on businesses. What follows are several Election Day storylines and what they might mean for employers.
Second term for Obama
While certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act continue to face legal challenges — the contraception coverage provision, for one — President Barack Obama’s victory — and the Democrats’ continued majority in the Senate — means most of the health care reform law appears to be here to stay. Employers that took a wait-and-see approach while hoping for a Mitt Romney victory will need to work fast to comply with the act’s upcoming requirements. Both 2013 and 2014 include a number of provisions’ effective dates.
Some legal experts anticipate Obama’s second term will mean more regulations for employers. Employers with benefit plans should expect a repurposed definition of the term “fiduciary” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, for example.
Following Election Day, Obama and members of Congress from both parties vowed to work harder at bipartisanship in 2013. The current class of legislators will need to work together in what remains of 2012, though, to fix a number of issues that comprise the “fiscal cliff.” At the end of the year, certain automatic tax hikes and spending cuts go into effect. This includes the expiration of the temporary 2-percentage-point payroll tax cut for employees. Employers should pay attention to Congress’ action in this area, as it may affect withholding.
Massachusetts has joined 17 other states that allow marijuana use for medical reasons. Arkansas voters rejected a similar measure. In the West, Colorado and Washington state voters approved legalization of marijuana, while Oregon voters rejected it.
The Colorado and Washington initiatives are especially notable, as they legalize the recreational use of the drug up to a certain point.
However, the U.S. government still considers marijuana to be a controlled substance, and it’s unclear how a showdown between the two states and the federal government would play out.
The laws don’t require employers to hire marijuana users or to allow drug use on their premises, but they might cause some headaches.
First, employees might believe that because the initiatives passed, they are allowed to use marijuana while on duty. Some opponents of the measures fear the passage could lead to increased marijuana use. This might make finding new hires who are not marijuana users more difficult.
In the meantime, employers in Colorado, Washington and Massachusetts will want to review their drug-free workplace policies and make sure employees are aware of them. Employers should also remember federal safety regulations, such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s drug testing rules, still apply. Even organizations located in Colorado or Washington have a responsibility to comply with applicable federal rules.
On Nov. 6, Maine, Maryland and Washington became the first states to legalize gay marriage by a popular vote. Minnesota voters also voted down an amendment to the state constitution that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
The legislatures of six other states and the District of Columbia have already passed laws allowing gay marriage. Additionally, the Obama Administration has directed the U.S. Justice Department not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Two federal appeals courts ruled the marriage defense act unconstitutional earlier in the year.
Gay marriage proponents argue that Election Day revealed a rising acceptance of gay marriage rights. This, coupled with marriage act’s shaky legal future, could soon mean changes in federal benefits laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act. In the meantime, however, employers in states allowing gay marriage have a bit of a conundrum related to providing spousal benefits.
Rebecca Bentz is a human resources subject matter expert and associate editor with compliance resource firm J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. For more information, visit www.jjkeller.com and www.prospera.com.