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Asked and Answered: Questions on Immigration Reform, the ACA, Paid Leave and More Under the New Administration

On January 25, CUPA-HR’s government relations team presented the webinar “A New Administration and a New Congress: What to Expect in 2017 and Beyond” (now available for on-demand viewing) outlining the current and emerging top-line issues for higher ed HR. With over 1,000 HR professionals in attendance and a jam-packed agenda, it wasn’t possible to address every question we received during the Q&A portion of the presentation. While a good deal of the questions we received are legal in nature and can only be answered by an institution’s general counsel, we did get lots of other great questions.

Here, we address some of these.

Affirmative Action
We received a few questions regarding whether or not the Trump administration will roll back any of the changes the Obama administration Department of Labor made to the regulations governing federal contractors’ affirmative action obligations. While it’s unclear at this point whether or not any of these changes will be reversed, given the new administration’s aggressive stance on minimizing regulations, we do not expect it will expand employer obligations in this area.

Immigration Reform
We received many questions in regards to the impact of immigration reform on student visas and more specifically in regards to the plethora of information that was circulating in the public domain regarding draft executive orders that were leaked to the press concerning the suspension of visas from the following countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Immediately following the webinar, President Trump issued a raft of executive orders detailing immigration reform steps, and there has been an exponential increase in coverage from national news outlets on the impact that these executive orders are having on foreign nationals.

Although it is too early to paint a clear picture of the impact of these executive orders on higher education, we do know that the 90-day suspension on the entry of nationals from the countries listed in the Executive Order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” do apply to students as well.

Tax Reform
We received a couple questions on our assessment that Section 117(d) of the Internal Revenue Code is likely in jeopardy with this year’s tax reform efforts. Section 117(d) allows employees of certain educational institutions (and often their family members) to exclude “qualified tuition reductions” from the employee’s taxable income. A “qualified tuition reduction” is a reduction in tuition at an educational institution, at or below the college undergraduate level. Unfortunately, we are quite concerned that this tax provision may be removed, leaving employers and employees with tax liability for the full tuition cost, regardless of any tuition reduction or waiver.

The tax-writing committees are looking at many proposed changes to the tax code, and one prominent tax reform draft from a previous Congress, where many of the provisions of a new tax reform proposal are expected to be pulled from, repealed this provision. The elimination of this tax-free treatment of tuition remissions would be a significant benefit loss for higher education.

We are watching this issue closely and are working with a large coalition of other education associations to advocate with Congress on the matter.

ACA Reform
Not surprisingly we received many questions about the future of the employer mandate and the specifics of its repeal. Specifics are hard to come by, but we know the Trump administration and congressional Republicans have been clear about their intent to repeal the ACA’s employer mandate. We expect that withdrawal will extend to reporting, but that is not clear at this time.

Paid Leave
A few questions that circulated during the webinar asked for more specifics regarding President Trump’s maternity leave proposal and whether there will be changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Unfortunately, President Trump has not offer many details about his maternity leave proposal other than it would provide six weeks of paid maternity leave to new mothers which would be paid for with funds recovered from fighting unemployment compensation fraud. The issue brief from the campaign trail can be found here.

Whether there will be changes to the FMLA remains to be seen and will likely remain unanswered until Secretary of Labor nominee Andy Puzder is confirmed and his agenda made public. The FMLA regulations were last changed in 2009, and any changes in the future will fall under the purview of the Wage and Hour Administrator.

Columbia University Decision
Another question that we were unable to get to during the webinar addressed the issue of graduate student unionization and more specifically what would happen to the graduate student election results at Columbia University if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)’s Columbia decision is reversed.

This is a complex question and the answer depends on a host of variables which we will not address here. However, the last time the NLRB reversed its decision on whether graduate students may be considered in certain cases employees under the National Labor Relations Act, New York University, which was the only private university where a successful organizing campaign took place, withdrew recognition of the UAW — the union representing NYU’s graduate students. For a more detailed analysis of organizing on campus, register for CUPA-HR’s February 7 webinar, “The Post-Columbia Campus: A Look at Organizing, Bargaining and What Comes Next,” presented by labor and employment attorney Jonathan Fritts.

View the free webinar, “A New Administration and a New Congress: What to Expect in 2017 and Beyond.”

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