Smith Hill to Capitol Hill: Society's Government Update April 2018

RISCPA and the RI Business Coalition are monitoring dozens of pieces of legislation being heard at the RI Legislature this week including several bills before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Coalition believes are extremely misguided and antagonistic to RI employers. Among the bills is Senate bill 2265, pertaining to wrongful discharge from employment, which would essentially end Rhode island’s long standing “employment-at-will” legal doctrine, which is of great concern to employers. It would strengthen an employee’s options for remedies when charging that wrongful discharge has occurred and extends other job protections to employees, while reducing protections to the employer.

Other bills being heard before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week that are of concern to the Business Coalition include:
S 2286; S 2578; S 2593; S 2597; S 2602; S 2607; S 2706.

The bills address various management/labor relations issues but in general are positioned to favor the employee over the employer including: requiring additional earnings statement records be made available to employees; increasing employee whistle blower protection; strengthening existing provisions around workers compensation claims and the liability of employers.

Update on Paid Sick and Safe Leave Time: The 2017 paid leave law, requiring RI businesses with 18 or more employees to offer 3 days per year of paid sick time and rising to 5 days in future years, is being followed up this session with a series of proposed new regulations. A hearing held this week at the state Department of Labor & Training (DLT) on the regulations was attended by several member organizations of the Business Coalition concerned about certain interpretations of the new law and how that could impact business owners. The law currently allows an employee to utilize paid sick leave not only for themselves but also for any member of their household. The Coalition is recommending that provision be narrowed to reflect a household member who can be claimed as a dependent on a tax return, and could not be used for a roommate, for example, or a visiting household guest. The Coalition is also urging clarifications be made to certain sections of the law pertaining to: what defines the number of employees at a workplace; written notice requirements that the paid sick time is being requested; the jurisdiction of the law, specifically that it can only be applied to businesses with a physical presence within RI, and several other sections.

Washington, DC: New trade tariffs hitting the U.S. from abroad, a twitter battle against Amazon, restarting the border wall, and a possible high stakes meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin are among the headlines coming out of the Trump White House and Washington, DC this week. In recent days China declared new tariffs on U.S. exports to the Chinese mainland in retaliation for the Trump administration’s recent move to place new taxes on steel and aluminum imports. So far China is only placing tariffs on American exports of pork, fruit and the herbal root ginseng, grown widely in Wisconsin. Though those food related products account for just 2% of U.S. exports, the trade war could escalate if the Chinese were to extend new tariffs to soybean exports, as China consumes over 50% of U.S. soybean exports. Other issues preoccupying the President in recent days have included sending out tweets critical of the on-line giant Amazon and its ever-growing retail sector dominance which Trump characterized as unfairly harmful to brick and mortar retail stores. The President has also taken a new aggressive tone on construction of the border wall as news reports indicate Republican allies have urged him to speed up construction as supporters are frustrated at the lack of progress on the wall. Lastly, the Administration has indicated Russian President Vladimir Putin may be invited to a White House meeting with Trump this spring, despite the ongoing Mueller probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. 2016 election. No confirmed date or arrangements have yet to be announced. Stay tuned!



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