Old Laws Hobble the New Economy Workplace

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If we are living in the New Economy of the new millennium, why are U.S. labor laws mired in the New Deal of the 1930s? Employers are well aware that the anomalies exist and are increasing daily. It’s the legislators who are shirking the mind-boggling chore of modernization.

Two recent government rulings are illustrative: The National Labor Relations Board allowed employees of temporary-help agencies to organize into labor unions; the Department of Labor, although it eventually backed off, declared employers responsible for ensuring safe home offices for employees who work from home.

Many of the anomalies have their roots in the labor environment of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, but the workplace has changed a lot since then. Consider the following:

  • ▪ Today supervisors often have less job security, longer hours and sometimes even lower pay than the employees they supervise. The latter have many protections from employment law; the supervisors essentially have none.
  • ▪ Despite the evidence that employees benefit from improving their job-related skills, it is illegal for an employer to require that workers share the costs of training for their current jobs, even though employees may take their new skills to a different company soon after.
  • ▪ Getting experience, even from unpaid work, is a good way for recent graduates and other entrants to the workforce to get ahead. But it is illegal to have anyone do volunteer or unpaid work that contributes value to the company.
  • ▪ In the modern world, it is common for employees and teams to have some control over how they work. Ifindividuals direct their own work without supervision, the law says they are not eligible to join a union. But ifteams make decisions for themselves, they are technically behaving illegallyunless they are in a union.
  • ▪ Employees who move to contractor status will find that their employee protections evaporate, even if the work they do is in every other way unchanged.
  • ▪Education experts say that if students know employers are paying attention to school performance when hiring, they will be more motivated in the classroom. But because a school-performance criterion often has an adverse effect on groups protected by law against discrimination, employers are not permitted to ask about classroom performance unless they can show that the question relates to the requirements of the specific job for which the applicant is being considered.

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