Today’s News & Commentary — October 26, 2016

The Pentagon is forcing thousands of soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan to repay enlistment bonuses granted to them a decade ago. The demands for repayment have surfaced in the wake of a 2011 audit of the California Guard that revealed “widespread overpayments” by officials struggling to meet enlistment quotas at the height of both wars. The soldiers’ bonuses often exceeded $15,000 and were mostly spent by those soldiers and their families years ago. Today, for many soldiers, the unexpected debt is causing severe financial hardship, including the necessity of choosing between paying the debt or buying food and diapers for their children. In 2014, the California National Guard tried but failed to obtain relief from Congress, asking for funds to cover the costs of the improper bonuses. However, as of this week, members of Congress from both parties have newly called for a legislative solution and an end to the collections by the Pentagon.

Yesterday the White House issued a statement urging states to ban non-compete agreements. The Obama administration noted that such agreements are particularly unjust for low-wage workers, who do not pose a risk to company secrets, nor are they likely to lure clients away when changing jobs. Vice President Joe Biden weighed in on his opposition to non-competes, stating that workers “can’t reach their true potential without freedom to negotiate for a higher wage with a new company, or to find another job after they’ve been laid off.” Almost all states, with the notable exception of California, currently allow non-competes. But California successfully relies on employee non-disclosure and non-solicitation clauses to protect trade secrets. It is possible other states will follow suit in the wake of the infamous Jimmy John’s settlement this summer and the increased political pressure from the Administration.

Lastly, corporate wellness programs are facing a new hurdle—this time in the form of an AARP lawsuit against the EEOC for its regulations of these programs. In May 2016, the EEOC issued new rules, stating that employers could set incentives for participating in a wellness program as high as 30% of workers’ annual health care coverage costs. However, in order to receive the bonuses or incentive pay, many of these programs require employees to turn over personal, medical, and biometric information to their employers. Critics of the programs, including the AARP, argue that this exchange of information violates anti-discrimination laws, specifically the ADA and GINA (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act). The AARP is seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the EEOC rules from going into effect in 2017.