Sunday, October 17, 2021

Potential Department Of Labor Changes On Tap Under The New Administration

The news is full of the changes being brought on by the new Biden administration, but not much is seen in the press about its effect on the Department of Labor. On the other hand, there are many business groups and law firms trying to predict what will be different under the new administration as it relates to the Department of Labor. Here are some of the things we are hearing.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, we will likely see increased emphasis on enforcement and recordkeeping. The Trump administration placed little emphasis on the rule to improve tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses.

coronavirus
COVID-19 enforcement is probably going to increase unless we see a significant continuation of improvement in cases — courtesy University of Michigan

This rule requires covered employers to electronically submit their injury and illness records to OSHA by March 2 of each year through the agency’s online portal. Covered employers include cotton gins that employ more than 20 workers at any time during the year.

We expect the new administration to place additional emphasis on this rule.

In the original rule, all employers with over 250 employees were required to submit their OSHA 300-log data. Covered employers with less than 250 employees, such as cotton gins, were required to submit their 300a-log data. The OSHA 300a is basically a summary of the OSHA 300.

For the past few years, all employers were only required to submit the 300a data. But there is talk now that OSHA will issue a rule to require the more detailed 300 data. We will see if this change takes place, but the likelihood is high that it probably will.

Several Increases Expected

COVID-19 enforcement is probably going to increase unless we see a significant continuation of improvement in cases. OSHA has announced a national emphasis program related to COVID-19, but the program seems to be focusing on larger companies with high exposure risk.

The number of OSHA inspectors has dropped to the lowest number seen in many years. It is expected that we will see a significant increase in the number of inspectors over the next few years. While this process will take some time, you can anticipate seeing an increase in the number of inspections as OSHA brings the new inspectors onboard.
We also expect increased emphasis on wage and hour compliance from the DOL.

It has announced a proposal to rescind the independent contractor final rule, which was issued earlier this year. They are also proposing to rescind the current regulation on joint employer relationships. Both of these rules were widely supported by employers and independent contractors.

As you gear up for the 2021 ginning season, make sure you have all your OSHA documentation and training up to speed. Go through your plant carefully to ensure safety compliance. Pay close attention to your payroll procedures. Be sure your overtime is being calculated properly and that you are paying bonuses properly.

Remember, everyone must be paid overtime in a cotton gin, including H-2A workers. We are able to pay overtime with the 48-hour rule for 14 weeks each year, but pay close attention to how this rule works to be sure you are doing it correctly.

Seek Help Right Away

For the past several years, we have consistently seen the Wage and Hour Division perform inspections of cotton gins in one or two areas of the United States every year. I think it is likely that this will continue. These inspections go smoothly if you have good payroll procedures and recordkeeping. But they can quickly become intense if DOL finds problems in your payment methods.

cgIf you are contacted by the DOL for an OSHA or Wage and Hour inquiry, be sure to get with your local or regional association right away. We have been through quite a few of these over the years and can help you get through this process in the most expeditious way possible.

J. Kelley Green, TCGA director of technical services, contributed this article. Contact him at kelley@tcga.org.

Gin Schools Will Resume In 2022

The National Cotton Ginners’ Association says the 2021 Gin Schools have been canceled. Given the many uncertainties this year as to whether facilities and states will allow reopenings and if instructors will be allowed to travel, the decision was made to cancel the two remaining schools for 2021.

The association says this was a difficult decision, but so many unknowns and unanswered questions made it impossible to make plans. NCGA is hopeful everything will soon get back to a state of normalcy and gin schools can be offered again in 2022. The organization apologizes for the inconvenience this has caused.

However, NCGA does plan to have virtual training sessions. As they are finalized, session details will be posted on the website at cotton.org/ncga/.

While there will be no charge for the sessions, you will need to register to receive the participant link.

Updated Coronavirus Guidance

Now that the new administration is in place in Washington D.C., the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association is beginning to see a shift in the regulatory environment toward more rule making, more documentation requirements, more inspections and potentially higher penalties for non-compliance in many areas.

Many of the documentation and reporting requirements that were suspended during the prior administration will be re-instituted as well as new requirements imposed.

All indicators point at the new administration directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop federally mandated coronavirus response plans and rulemaking instead of allowing the states to administer their own plans based on Center for Disease Control and Department of Labor guidance.

Most states have instituted some degree of “guidance” for steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. However, these guidelines usually did not impose specific requirements and/or penalties on employers.

Two states, California and Virginia, have developed specific requirements mandating the development of coronavirus response plans by employers to maintain a safe work environment for employees. Many think the new federally mandated requirements will follow the Virginia law closely. As a result, TCGA began reviewing the its documents to prepare for impending additional regulation in this area.

A COVID-19 response plan for Texas cotton gins was developed and is accessible with your password on the TCGA website under the coronavirus resource page. It is listed on the home page or the members only section. Here is what the plan includes:

• Planning steps and hazard assessment to minimize spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

• Workforce training on COVID-19 transmission and prevention.

• Employee screening to determine the employee health.

• Implementation of controls to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

• Return-to-work criteria for infected employees.

• Recordkeeping to comply with local, state and federal guidelines.

• Anti-retaliation guidelines for employees who report potential COVID-19 issues at work.

TCGA encourages you to take time to become familiar with the plan so you can make any necessary changes now rather than when an OSHA inspector arrives. Safety training for “cotton gins” and “shared facilities and housing” is also available on the website.

TCGA provided this information.

Plains Cotton Growers Annual Meeting

This year, the 64th Annual Meeting of Plains Cotton Growers Inc. is scheduled for Friday, April 9, at the Overton Hotel and Convention Center in Lubbock, Texas.

The meeting begins with a buffet breakfast at 7:30 a.m. sponsored by Deltapine. Registration opens at 8:30 a.m., and the program starts at 9 a.m. Following the assembly, a lunch hosted by FiberMax will be served. There is no charge to attend, and no RSVP is necessary.

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