5 Biggest News Stories of the Week: December 15

As the saying goes, the news never stops — but there’s a lot of it out there, and all of it doesn’t always pertain to our readers. In this weekly news roundup, we’ll cover the top news stories that matter most to our diversity focused audience.

1. Biden Signs Respect for Marriage Act into Law

Just a few days after it passed the U.S. House of Representatives, President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law, which for the first time in history approved protections for same-sex marriage under the federal government. 

Before reaching the President’s desk, the House passed the law in a 258-169-1 vote. The law had bipartisan support, with all 39 Republicans joining House Democrats to sign it. 

More than 2,000 people gathered at the White House during a celebratory event of Biden signing the legislation. 

“The road for the moment has been long, but those who believe in equality and justice, you never gave up,” Biden said. “Many of you standing on the South Lawn here. So many of you put your relationships on the line, your jobs on the line, your lives on the line to fight for the law I’m about to sign.”

2. Federal HR Leaders Highlight Recent Hiring Reforms

Both the Biden administration and the Trump administration put focus on skills-based hiring, which leaders say is starting to pay off. 

During a recent Chief Human Capital Officers Council, which was hosted by the Office of Personnel Management to discuss issues in the federal workforce, officials with the Biden administration talked about the “success of surge hiring initiatives to attract 3,500 new federal workers this year to help implement the bipartisan infrastructure law and the role of two recent innovations in the hiring process—shared certifications and skills-based hiring assessments—played in that effort,” Government Executive writes

Shared certifications are a tactic used by the government to advertise multiple jobs at once that fall under similar positions. Once the candidates have been evaluated, agencies can look at the list of qualified applicants and hire based on that.

Skills-based hiring is done by asking applicants to take a series of assessments to determine if they have the skills needed for a job rather than relying on people who self-certify their qualifications and have a higher education degree. 

“Such assessments vary based on the various federal job types, but agencies have already developed a common USA Hire assessment to measure general competencies and soft skills that are common across many government positions,” according to Government Executive.

During the forum, Anita Adkins, the Agriculture Department’s chief human capital officer, said these shared certification processes help her office find the right people to hire in Human Resources. 

“The HR specialist occupation was one of many that we were able to take advantage of to assist agencies in the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law and hiring,” she said. “USDA said ‘yes’ to that initiative, along with eight other agencies that participated . . . USDA hired 39 HR specialists off of that single certificate, and we are just delighted with our hires and are excited to do it again.”

3. NLRB Ruling Expands List of Remedies for Unfair Labor Practices

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) this week ruled that employers that violate federal labor laws must “compensate workers to make up for the direct consequences of unfair labor practices,” according to SHRM. This remedy will be applied retroactively to all currently-pending cases. 

Historically, NLRB has made employers who have unlawfully discriminated against or laid off employees fully account for their losses in back pay, reinstatement of their employment and payment dues and fines to stop these unfair practices, The Dec. 13 ruling significantly expanded this list. 

“Employees are not made whole until they are fully compensated for financial harms that they suffered as a result of unlawful conduct,” said NLRB Chairman Lauren McFerran. “By standardizing the board’s make-whole relief to fully include the direct or foreseeable financial harms suffered by affected employees, we will better serve the important goals of the National Labor Relations Act.”

4. A Look at HR Compliance

A Human Resource leader’s job is to ensure their place of work is fair, equitable, safe and healthy for employees, and with this comes the role of HR compliance or ensuring the company is adhering to labor laws and regulations in your state, country or municipality. 

HR compliance is achieved through the creation, documentation and enforcement of policies and practices. In a recent article, Forbes laid out some of the areas HR leaders need to be particularly mindful of that can run amiss of labor laws in the U.S. and individual states are as follows:

Job postings that are discriminatory. Employers cannot discriminate against job applicants based on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, genetic information or disability. 

Misclassification of employees. The way in which employees are classified, whether they are full-time employees or contractors, impacts their pay, the taxes they pay and the benefits they are entitled to, which is why it is important to correctly document their employment status. 

To avoid these things, it is important to properly document your company’s employment policies, stay up-to-date on federal, state and local regulations and consider using an HR services provider to maintain HR compliance. 

5. The Cost of Getting Sick: Black Americans and Medical Debt

Black Americans experience healthcare debt at higher rates than whites do. Because of this debt, they are more likely to borrow money, be contacted by collections agencies and have medical bills that are past due. 

“If you incur a significant hospital stay that’s hundreds of thousands of dollars, you’re not going to pay that back. So it sits there until you die or it’s expunged,” Andre Perry, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution said. “We need to figure out ways to extinguish medical debt. If you do that, you free people to live more productive lives and contribute to the economy in better ways.”

Racism is one factor that contributes to medical debt, and according to Breno Braga, principal research associate in the Center on Labor, Human Services and Population at the Urban Institute, “everything related to race in this country goes back to structural barriers and systematic racism in housing, credit and employment opportunities because those make communities of color more financially vulnerable.”

Some health companies have stepped in to help out with medical debt. Northwell Health (No. 1 on Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s 2022 Top Hospitals and Health Systems list) has hired additional certified financial counselors to help patients complete financial assistance applications. The company has also implemented a tele-financial counseling program. 

“In 2021, which is unique to hospitals and health systems nationwide, Northwell created a new role – medical debt ombudsman –  which serves as an independent reviewer to help patients with medical debts avoid potential action by ensuring they are aware of financial assistance options available to them,” Barbara Osborn, Vice President of Public Relations at Northwell Health, said.


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