A Great Conversation Starter: When’s the Last Time the US Congress Passed a Major Employment Law?

The next time you’re at a party here’s a great question to ask a new acquaintance in order to start a stimulating conversation: “when’s the last time the US Congress passed a major piece of employment-related legislation?” (hmmm, I wonder if this has something to do with why I’m not invited to many parties.)

But seriously, it is interesting to note that the last time the US Congress passed a major piece of employment-related legislation was (gasp) the Family & Medical Leave Act in 1993… twenty-seven years ago!!*

This doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been pressure to pass new employment-related laws (there’s a lot of pressure), it’s just that political circumstances haven’t allowed it to happen in a while… at least not on the federal level. The real story over the past couple decades is how state and local governments have begun to pass their own employment-related laws (in the spirit of “if the feds won’t do it, we will”). Some of these laws are very aggressive and use novel approaches to compliance not found in federal statutes.

The unfortunate result is that we’re developing a complex patchwork of differing legal requirements across the country. Complying with these different requirements can be very challenging for multi-state employers. Employee attorneys are exploiting corporate ignorance of local requirements (e.g., an employer is complying with federal wage & hour laws, but they are unaware of applicable state laws imposing higher standards). Therefore, when doing compliance reviews, it’s becoming increasingly important to check for the existence of state or local laws that are applicable to the location in question that may differ from the federal standard.

… and of course, let me know how the conversation at the party goes.

*Here’s my reasoning on this claim: the closest I can get to a more recent employment law being passed by the US Congress is the ACA (but that is ultimately a healthcare law that has an impact on employment, it’s really not an “employment law” in the typical sense), and the ADAAA (which, while clearly impactful, only amends the ADA which was passed in 1990).  I would also argue that passage of laws like the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 would be properly classified as “minor” because (again) they only amend an existing statute on a fairly narrow issue, in this case Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Therefore, I don’t believe that the US Congress has passed a major employment laws passed since 1993 (FMLA).

This information is not intended as legal advice.