It’s that time of year! It’s March, and there’s no telling what’s going to happen next. It’s a frenzied, fast-paced, full-court-press. It’s names you’ve never heard of suddenly bursting onto the scene and wreaking havoc. It’s pure madness!
No, no, not the NCAA. We’re talking OMB.
Under the Obama administration, the federal Office of Management and Budget has been busy this month reviewing five burdensome new regulations that threaten to slam businesses and hammer the economy. Several of the rules have recently been finalized, while others are expected to be set in stone in the coming weeks. In each case, the administration rushed through the rulemaking process, ignoring public comments and giving short shrift to its economic analysis responsibilities.
So let’s set aside for a moment the road to the Final Four. Here’s a look at what for employers may feel like regulators' Fatal Five and why each rule is drawing heavy boos from the business crowd.
DOL’s Fiduciary Rule
The Labor Department’s fiduciary rule threatens to hit small businesses with a trifecta of new hurdles related to retirement planning. One, it will restrict the advice that financial experts can share with small business owners and their employees. Two, it will severely limit the retirement plan options offered to those small businesses. Three, it will likely result in higher plan-related costs for small businesses from, well, coast to coast. Bottom line: The fiduciary rule will make it harder for many Americans to save for retirement, which runs counter to DOL’s stated objective. Like a losing coach at halftime, the agency should really consider going back to the drawing board.
DOL’s Overtime Rule
When it comes to the NCAA tournament, there’s nothing better than overtime. When it comes to new federal regulations, quite the opposite. In addition to the new retirement rule, the agency has proposed new “one-size-fits-all” regulations that will hammer small businesses and significantly limit employment opportunities. Basically, the rule raises costs for employers by more than doubling the salary limit under which employees qualify for overtime pay, thus decreasing the number of employees who are exempt from federal overtime pay rules. In the process, many reclassified employees will likely lose benefits, flexibility and – like 16 seeds – any real opportunity to advance.
DOL’s Persuader Rule
Completing the agency’s nightmarish 3-point play, the Labor Department this week finalized its “persuader” rules, which features new and complicated reporting mandates for attorneys, consultants and other professionals who advise companies about certain labor matters. The persuader rule’s purpose is to stifle employer speech and make it much more difficult for employers to discuss with employees the pros and cons of unionization – which seems like a pretty flagrant foul to us.
In turn, unions hope that they’ll see a boost in their membership rolls, which have been suffering a Michigan State-style vanishing act lately. And if it weren’t already clear who is behind the proposal, unions and their attorneys aren’t required to adhere to the new reporting requirements. If the rule is implemented as written, it would be a big fat L for businesses.
OSHA’s Injury and Illness Rule
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) isn’t sitting it out this March. For starters, the agency is finalizing a new rule that would require employers to submit injury and illness records to OSHA electronically, after which the agency would post them online. Problem is, OSHA has no statutory authority to publish or disseminate that information. Sharing the rock in basketball? Good. Sharing companies’ injury and illness records with the public? Not so good.
This regulation has been driven entirely by labor leaders. Unions will use these reports—many (if not most) of which have no bearing on the employer’s attention to or overall record on workplace safety—in their efforts to characterize an employer as having an unsafe workplace, resorting to what amounts to public shaming even when there’s no evidence of wrongdoing by an employer. In the words of Dicky V, it’s a dipsy-doo-trick-a-roo that the government simply shouldn’t allow.
OSHA’s Silica Rule
One and done? No way, that’s not OSHA’s style. On top of the injury and illness requirements, the agency this week finalized new rules dramatically cutting the exposure levels for respirable silica in an array of workplaces, such as foundries, glassmaking facilities, brick production plants and construction sites. All this despite the fact that government data shows illness and death rates have plummeted by more than 93 percent since 1968 under the existing limits. The rule will require every brick plant, most of which are small businesses, to spend nearly $1 million up front on new equipment, after which they will incur another $225,000 in added costs every year after that.
To make matters worse, the regulation requires employers to monitor exposures through air samples, and current laboratory technology is unable to reliably detect silica at OSHA’s new levels. Because OSHA is also specifying the most expensive methods of controlling exposure, instead of modern technology that is less costly and easier to use, this regulation will also be economically infeasible.
While NCAA March Madness extends about a week into April, the Obama administration’s regulatory madness continues year-round, and it’s particularly clobbering the Cinderellas of our economy – small businesses. It’s time we stop stacking the odds against them with onerous regulations that threaten to do more than knock them out of some tournament; they threaten to knock them out of business, eliminating thousands of jobs in the process.