HR Leadership Column

The Trump Effect

While a Trump presidency will inevitably have a noticeable impact on employment and labor policy, HR leaders shouldn't be tempted to make changes just because a new administration says it's legal to now do so.  

Monday, November 21, 2016
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Well, it's that time again. It's time to discuss the fact that presidential elections have consequences. And when the election also ends with a unified government, with the House, Senate and White House all controlled by the same party, the consequences can be even greater.

A presidential election provides a fascinating opportunity to observe the process by which new political leadership is put in place. If this were a private-sector takeover, how long would it take you to fill 4,000 positions with highly qualified professionals from virtually every segment of the economy? Now consider this: How long would it take if you added a political vetting process, Senate confirmations and government background checks? Then how confident would you be of the quality of hire under these constraints? Keep in mind that, before you even started to fill positions throughout the government, you'd have to staff the White House by getting everyone appointed, vetted, background-checked and assigned office space. (And hopefully find someone who knows what an applicant-tracking system is and how to use it.)

A new president has to do all of this without putting the nation at risk or disrupting service to the American public.

Included in the 4,000 appointees will be the Secretary of Labor, two new members of the five-member National Labor Relations Board, as well as political leaders for agencies such as the Wage and Hour Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, just to name a few. These are the people who will make policy recommendations to the White House and implement directions that may come down from the White House.

Congress, meanwhile, will be just as busy. Following the Congressional elections, the House and Senate will do some shuffling of leadership positions as well as committee assignments before the new Congress convenes next year. The chairmen of the committees with jurisdiction over labor and employment issues will likely be directing staffs to bring forward any proposals that have been unable to move in recent years because of a threat of a veto from President Obama.

So what does a Trump presidency mean for HR executives and for U.S. labor and employment policy? Frankly, it's hard to predict, since he was pretty vague during his campaign on specific policy proposals.

We all know that something will have to change with the Affordable Care Act. The health mandate is simply not sustainable as it currently stands, and Trump has made it clear he plans to "repeal and replace" it. What the replacement will look like -- and what it will cost -- is anybody's guess.

I doubt there will be a quick change to the new salary test in the Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime regulations, which becomes effective next month. Change or repeal of the regulations would require a notice and comment period (and thereby would take many months), and legislative action would require hearings in both the House and Senate (and would thereby take months as well.)

Some of the executive orders issued by President Obama that impose additional requirements on federal contractors -- a higher minimum wage; paid sick leave; and prohibiting discrimination by contractors based on sexual orientation and gender identity, to name a few -- are likely to be withdrawn or replaced.

And the trend of National Labor Relations Board enforcement policy and decisions, which have limited employers' rights in recent years, will begin to change as well, but only after a new general counsel is appointed and the vacancies on the board are filled. This, too, will take some time.

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In short, things are likely to change, but not overnight.

HR professionals, however, will have a harder, more important task than simply paying attention to the changes coming from a Trump administration. To me, the more difficult and more important job will be deciding what, if any, of those changes really matter to their organizations. Which ones require any action?

If, for example, you're working for a federal contractor, and have already implemented executive-order requirements by adopting policies that provide paid sick leave and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, will you drop the policies if the executive orders are withdrawn?

If the new salary threshold under the FLSA is somehow reduced, allowing you to stop paying employees overtime wages, when you've already reclassified and begun paying the employees overtime, will you stop?

There may be many new questions like this to consider in the future.

But tread carefully before taking action. Don't be tempted to make changes just because a new administration says it's legal to now do so. Rather, make sure whatever you do is in the best interests of the business and the workers you're charged with helping succeed.

Susan R. Meisinger, former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, is an author, speaker and consultant on human resource management. She is on the board of directors of the National Academy of Human Resources.


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