Educational assistance and workplace flexibility hot legislative topics

Kirstin guptill
Kirstin guptill

I recently attended the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) volunteers leadership summit in Washington, D.C. The summit affords an opportunity for human resource professionals such as myself to talk with lawmakers about legislation affecting the workplace.

Nearly 400 HR professionals met with lawmakers to discuss two important issues: employer-provided education assistance and workplace flexibility.

Employer-provided education assistance allows companies to provide up to $5,250 a year in pre-tax benefits to employees in education assistance. That level of tuition reimbursement has not increased in 40 years. Yes, 40 years.

Why does this matter? The cost of higher education has jumped more than 1,300 percent since 1978. If an employee completed a college education in 1978 and his or her employer paid tuition reimbursement of $5,250 a year, that would equate to $73,000 a year in 2018. While employers can’t afford to pay $73,000 a year per employee to support educational advancement, something must change. Employees entering the work force with massive student loan debt face difficulty surviving at entry level salaries.

Participants in the summit asked lawmakers to double the monetary limit to $11,500 a year to enable employers to offer additional support. Lawmakers also were asked to allow businesses to support student loan repayment as a type of tax-free education assistance. This would enable employers to support employees with student loan repayment or student loan payment matching, helping to offset the financial burden to obtain the education needed for their roles.

Workplace flexibility constitutes another important issue. Business owners and managers wonder how to comply with state and federal laws. What happens for businesses with employees in multiple states where laws conflict? How do sick leave and the Family Medical Leave Act play into workplace flexibility?

With all these questions in mind, SHRM has tried to strike a balance between the needs of employers and employees. The Workflex in the 21st Century Act would create a qualified flexible work arrangement (QFWA). Employers that opt in would follow a federal framework for paid leave and work flex schedules. This could replace constructed and complicated programs that are difficult to manage. The framework would offer a voluntary system that also would be adaptable and preempt state and local paid-leave laws.

To qualify for QFWA, employers would offer paid leave and a flexible work arrangement. Employers would be allowed to make adjustments so long as they meet minimum standards.

Should the employer-provided education assistance and workplace flexibility initiatives be implemented in coming years, employers will have additional benefits to offer employees than could be at times more attractive than higher wages.

I encourage any employer who’d like more information on these topics or wants to show their support for these endeavors to reach out and learn more. Learn more about educational assistance endeavors at www.cpepea.com. Learn more about QFWA by following the link located at http://www.advocacy.shrm.org/workflex.