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The Democrats Will Control the Senate. What’s Next for Employment Law?

Posted by Kathy Harrington-Sullivan | Jan 15, 2021 | 0 Comments

Media outlets across the U.S. have declared Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to be the winners of their respective Georgia Senate races. This was a huge win for Democrats, giving them control of the Senate once Kamala Harris—who holds tie-breaking power as vice president—is sworn in. 

For two years, the Republicans controlled the Senate. The monumental Senate victory in Georgia shifts the balance of power, making it far more likely that President-elect Joe Biden can execute his agenda—including regarding areas of employment.

There are many employment law issues that Biden will likely influence. Here are four of the big ones.

Minimum Wage

One of the most talked-about issues when it comes to employment is the minimum wage—a topic which Biden has made his opinion extremely clear.

For over a decade, the $7.25 federal minimum wage has remained static—the longest stretch without an increase in the history of the U.S. Biden has come out in support of a $15 minimum wage nationwide.

Even if the Senate votes to increase the minimum wage, the increase would likely happen over a few years, not all at once. For instance, a 2019 bill that passed the House of Representatives would have raised it to $15 by 2025.

This increase may have been extremely difficult—if not impossible—to achieve with the Senate evenly divided. But the victories of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff make it significantly more likely.  

Paid Leave

Another issue that Biden has often discussed is paid leave, which is a big focus of the Democratic Party's wider agenda.

Previously, Biden has supported universal paid sick days and the leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. In addition, President-elect Biden supports 12 weeks of paid leave for all workers to care for their newborns, their newly adopted or fostered children, or their own or a family member's serious health condition, or to care for injured service members or deal with “qualifying exigencies arising from the deployment” of a family member in the Armed Services.

With many Americans financially strained from the events of 2020, watch for paid leave reforms to come—or at least be heavily debated—sooner rather than later. 

Support Equality Act

President-elect Biden has vowed to make the Equality Act a top legislative priority during his first 100 days in office. The bill, which has already passed the House, would prohibit employers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Trump administration opposed the Equality Act, claiming it would “undermine parental and conscience rights.” In the name of religious liberty, Trump also restricted queer rights. As vice president under Obama, Biden was a leading voice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights, and he will be the same as president.

Since the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act in 2019, which was stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, the blockage is cleared for this bill to be passed. 

Pay Equity

Biden believes that his daughter is entitled to the same rights and opportunities as his sons. This goes for many issues, including pay equity. 

This is from the Biden website:
The Lilly Ledbetter Act Fair Pay Act was the first piece of legislation the Obama-Biden Administration enacted, and Biden will continue to prioritize closing wage gaps and ending paycheck discrimination. He strongly supports Senator Patty Murray and Congresswoman DeLauro's Paycheck Fairness Act, which codifies and expands critical Obama-Biden protections for workers' paychecks. He will build on it as President and protect workers against retaliation for discussing wages. 

Biden is not the first president to discuss the wage gap between men and women who perform the same or similar work. But he may be the first to take serious action to close it.

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The Bottom Line
Given Biden's stance on these employment issues and others—including contract employees and employee unions—it's clear that the agenda coming out of the new White House will be more employee-friendly.

And the Georgia Senate wins are the biggest reason why. 

About the Author

Kathy Harrington-Sullivan

Kathy Harrington Sullivan is a Partner at Barrett & Farahany who helps potential clients understand the law, clarify their rights, and determine which steps they can take to protect themselves and their jobs.

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