Laws Protect Convicted Applicants, Social Media Accounts and Marijuana Users

New state legislation took effect in 2014

By Dana Wilkie Jan 13, 2014
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New protections for job applicants convicted of crimes, for employees who use medical marijuana and for workers’ private social media accounts are among the state laws that took effect in 2014.

In 2013 five state legislatures passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage: Delaware, Hawaii Illinois, Minnesota and Rhode Island. Nine states enacted social media privacy laws, while 14 raised their minimum wage.

Harassment and Discrimination

California now has a law clarifying that for sexual harassment to be proved, the sexually harassing conduct doesn’t need to be motivated by sexual desire.

At least three states passed stronger protections for job applicants and employees convicted of past crimes. Minnesota now limits how much a company can rely on criminal history for employment purposes. Rhode Island prohibits employers from asking—orally or in writing—about an applicant's criminal convictions, with certain exceptions, until the first interview. And in California an employer can’t ask candidates to disclose information about convictions that have been judicially dismissed or ordered sealed unless the employer is required by law to obtain that information.

Military veterans and the LGBT community also have new protections and benefits. California added “military and veteran status” to the list of categories protected from employment discrimination. Illinois now gives same-sex and different-sex couples and their children equal access to the status, benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities of civil marriage.

In addition, the Golden State now prohibits companies from taking adverse employment action against victims of stalking or from discharging workers—or discriminating or retaliating against them—because of their status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

New Accommodations

There are new accommodations in Oregon and Texas for those who are grieving, for those who use guide animals and for those who need to care for ailing relatives.

Oregon enacted a law requiring certain private employers to provide bereavement leave to eligible employees under the Oregon Family Leave Act. The state also now allows eligible workers to take family leave after the death of a family member. California expanded the scope of its family temporary disability program to include time off to care for a seriously ill grandparent, grandchild, sibling or parent-in-law.

In Texas, restaurants, retail food stores, and other food establishments and vendors can no longer ban an assistance animal from areas open to other customers, as long as those areas aren’t used to prepare food.

The medical use of marijuana has been a hot topic in state legislatures. Illinois employers cannot discriminate against workers whose doctors have given them registry identification cards allowing them to legally possess small amounts of cannabis. Nevada law has clarified that companies don’t have to allow medical use of marijuana in the workplace, although employers do have to make reasonable accommodations for the medical needs of those who have a registry identification card allowing them to use cannabis.

Finally, California businesses must allow employees who serve as volunteer firefighters, reserve peace officers or rescue personnel to take leave to perform emergency duties or to attend emergency rescue training.

Privacy

New Jersey now restricts employers’ access to workers’ personal social media accounts, as does Oregon, which prohibits any employer from asking employees or job applicants to divulge personal social media account passwords or user names, to add the employer to the individual's social media contact list, or to allow the employer to view the employee's or applicant's personal social media account. Illinois now allows organizations and their employees or agents to be sued by any parties to electronic communications that are monitored illegally.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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