Benefits Insights, Winter 2018
On November 15th Labor Secretary Alexandra Acosta discussed DOL priorities during a hearing with the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The committee inquired about past, present and future initiatives and other rulemaking positions. Though brief, Acosta did provide some insight into the department’s stance on many current workplace concerns.
Committee members asked Acosta questions related to health care, overtime regulations, OSHA rulemaking and enforcement, the fiduciary rule, and apprenticeship programs. Below is a summary of key issues discussed:
- Healthcare - Acosta said that, as directed by the administration, DOL had submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) proposed rules concerning an expansion of access to association health plans (AHP). Though unable to discuss specifics since the proposal was not yet public, Acosta said AHPs present an opportunity for small businesses to generate scale, increase their risk pool, and thereby reduce costs for their members.
- Overtime Regulations - When asked about the status of the enjoined overtime ruling, Acosta referred to the Request for Information (RFI) that the department issued earlier this year. He said it had resulted in a tremendous amount of comments that are enabling the agency to “write a new overtime rule in accordance with legal standards.”
- OSHA rulemaking and enforcement – Acosta fielded many questions about this topic and called them “complicated issues,” noting that some have had multiple compliance dates. He said that, in some cases, extensions had already been established to gain a better understanding of the outdated rules before revisions are considered. When asked about enforcement, he said there is a focus on expanding OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), which exempts employers from OSHA programmed inspections if they demonstrate their commitment to workplace safety, thus freeing up more inspectors to focus on “aggressive enforcement” of violators.
- Fiduciary rule – Asked about the status of the rule, Acosta noted that there are parts of the law that are subject to a notice of proposed rulemaking that is also pending OMB review. This proposed ruling would bring clarity and offers an 18-month extension if it moves forward.
- Apprenticeship – Tasked by the Trump administration to identify strategies and proposals to promote apprenticeships, Acosta discussed the agency’s efforts to streamline the certification process, as well as provide portable credentials while seeking the approval of merging duplicative job programs.
Shortly after the committee hearing, the DOL formally announced an 18-month extension, from January 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019 for “the special transition period for the new fiduciary rule’s Best Interest Contract (BIC) Exemption and the Principal Transactions Exemption, as well as the applicability of certain amendments to Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE) 84-24.”