Catch Up on New Employment Laws in States and Municipalities

By Joanne Deschenaux Dec 29, 2015
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In 2015, most of the changes to workplace laws occurred at the state and local levels, covering a wide variety of topics, and that’s likely to hold true in 2016. Employers, particularly those that do business in multiple states, need to be aware of new developments and ensure that their policies continue to conform to all federal, state and local laws.

The new laws from the past year include those that:

  • Require employers to provide paid sick leave.
  • Expressly require businesses to accommodate workers’ pregnancies.
  • Protect employees’ social media privacy.
  • Provide protections for wage disclosures.
  • “Ban the box” on employment applications.

Paid Sick Leave

Several state and local paid sick leave laws passed in 2015, and more are likely in 2016.

In California, a state law mandating paid sick leave went into effect on July 1, 2015. Employees, including part-time and temporary employees, will earn at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. An employer may limit the amount of paid sick leave an employee can use in one year to 24 hours or three days.

The city of Emeryville, Calif., also passed an ordinance in 2015 that requires employers to provide paid sick leave to workers.

Effective July 15, 2015, Massachusetts employers with more than 10 employees must provide one hour of guaranteed sick leave for every 30 hours worked, not to exceed 40 hours per year. Employees can use this time if they are ill, injured, or need to attend to a medical condition for themselves, a spouse, a child, or a parent. Employers with 10 or fewer employees are not required to provide paid sick leave, but they must provide unpaid sick leave under the same circumstances.

In Oregon, a state law mandating paid sick leave will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2016. This new law will require most employers with 10 employees or more to provide employees with one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked up to 40 hours a year. It will also require employers with fewer than 10 employees to provide up to 40 hours a year of unpaid sick leave.

In 2015, city councils adopted paid-sick-day laws in Tacoma, Wash.; Philadelphia, Pa.; and Bloomfield, N.J. In July, Montgomery County, Md., became the first county to establish a paid-sick-day standard.

Accommodation of Pregnant Workers

Although pregnant workers are protected by federal law, some states have provided their own rules for the accommodation of pregnancy and pregnancy related-conditions. This too can be expected to continue into 2016.

Effective March 3, 2015, in the District of Columbia, pregnant workers, workers recovering from childbirth, and workers with related medical conditions (including lactation), must receive reasonable accommodations unless the accommodations impose an undue hardship on the business.

Nebraska’s law went into effect in September 2015, and requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to workers who are pregnant, have given birth or who have a related medical condition unless the accommodations would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

In North Dakota, effective Aug. 1, 2015, employers must make reasonable accommodations for a pregnant worker who is otherwise qualified for the job, unless the accommodations would disrupt or interfere with the employer’s normal business operations, threaten an individual’s health or safety, contradict a business necessity of the employer or impose an undue hardship on the employer.

And, in Rhode Island, effective June 25, 2015, employers with four or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers, workers who have given birth and workers with related medical conditions (including the need to express breast milk) if they request them, unless the accommodations would impose an undue hardship on the business. The statute lists possible reasonable accommodations such as breaks, seating and a non-bathroom location to express breast milk.

Social Media Privacy

Another topic to watch in 2016 is the growing number of social media laws.

In 2015, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Montana, Tennessee and Virginia became the latest states to enact legislation banning employer access to workers’ social media accounts. These laws prohibit an employer from requiring an employee or applicant to provide it with a username and password or to access a personal online account. At least 17 states passed similar laws in previous years (Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin).

Wage Transparency

Connecticut is the most recent state to pass an anti-wage secrecy measure. On July 2, 2015, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed into law Public Act No. 15-196, entitled An Act Concerning Pay Equity and Fairness. The act went into effect upon its signing, and limits an employer’s ability to discourage employees from having open discussions about their wages.

On March 11, 2015, the District of Columbia's Wage Transparency Act of 2014 took effect. This act makes it unlawful for employers to prohibit employees from discussing their wages, and also prohibits employer retaliation against those who do. The act requires the mayor to assess civil fines against offending employers in progressively higher amounts for repeated violations. Other states with anti-pay secrecy laws include California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon and Vermont.

More laws of this kind can be expected in 2016.

Ban the Box Laws

In 2015, New Jersey and Oregon passed “ban-the-box” legislation, which requires private employers to remove the conviction history question on the job application and delay the background check inquiry until later in the hiring.

The two states join Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island and Washington, D.C, which had previously passed such provisions. Expect more legislation on this topic in the coming year.

Joanne Deschenaux, J.D., is SHRM’s senior legal editor.

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