Across the Country

States Remain Active in the HR Public-Policy Arena

Jul 29, 2015

Once labeled by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis as “laboratories” in which to “try novel and social economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country,” states continue to be the bellwether of HR public policy as Congress remains mired in partisan politics. However, when it comes to workplace policies like those highlighted below, more and more of these “experiments” are spreading across the country as other states consider these initiatives.

Below are just a few of the HR public-policy trends SHRM has been tracking on the state level in 2015:

  • Social Media Passwords—Since 2012, nearly 30 states have embraced restrictions on employers seeking online passwords from job candidates or employees as a condition of hiring or employment. This bipartisan initiative is expected to continue advancing in other states in 2015 and beyond.
  • Voluntary Veterans Preference—First enacted into law in the state of Washington back in 2011, this effort which has been strongly backed by veterans and the HR community throughout the country would establish a voluntary preference for veterans (and, in some instances, their spouses) in private-sector hiring. Some also expand the voluntary preference for veterans in retention and promotion decisions as well. Over two dozen states have passed such measures, which also are designed to shield employers from local and state claims of discrimination. See related California article.
  • Ban the Box/Background Checks—Legislation restricting the use of credit checks and employer efforts in inquiring about past convictions on an employment application continue to advance throughout the states and in many localities. Already, over half of the 50 states restrict the use of credit checks for hiring purposes unless the position being filled warrants such information, while a number of states (and over 100 localities) have moved to “ban the box” on certain hiring applications.
  • Mandatory Paid Sick Leave—Last month, Oregon joined Connecticut, California and Massachusetts as the fourth state in the nation to embrace a paid sick leave law. Eighteen localities and the District of Columbia have also passed such ordinances. Oregon’s law requires employers of 10 or more to provide five days of sick leave annually to their employees. Much like with recent efforts to increase the minimum wage in certain states, look for proponents of paid sick leave to use the ballot route on Election Day 2016.
  • Pregnancy Accommodation—Earlier this month, Rhode Island became the 15th state in the union to embrace some form of legislation mandating accommodation for pregnant women in the workplace. Following up on the recent Supreme Court decision in Young v. United Parcel Service, Rhode Island’s law (which becomes effective immediately) makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to refuse to reasonably accommodate an employee’s or prospective employee’s limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition. Look for similar legislation to advance in other states now that Rhode Island has approved this policy.

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