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4 Labor and Employment Law Changes to Keep an Eye on in 2015

Right now, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)—also known as health care reform—is probably your number one concern when it comes to complying with new government regulations in 2015. It should be.

But while health care reform brings a whole new set of challenges to your business in the coming year, it’s not the only legal change you need to keep an eye on.

There are potential changes to several other employer-related laws that you may need to prepare for.

1. Changes in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides basic rights and wage protections for American workers, including federal minimum wage and overtime requirements. Under this act, most workers must receive overtime pay of at least 1.5 times their regular pay rate for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week.

However, regulations regarding exemptions from the act’s overtime requirement, particularly for execu-tive, administrative and professional employees (often referred to as “white collar” exemptions) have not kept up with our modern economy. Because these regulations are outdated, millions of Americans lack the protections of overtime and even the right to the minimum wage.

Right now to qualify for exempt status, employees have to earn $455 a week. That comes out to $23,660 a year, which is only $2 a week above the poverty level for a family of four. As a result, President Obama is looking to increase the qualifying amount for exempt workers. This means that more workers will become non-exempt. And your business will be responsible for appropriately tracking and paying overtime to those employees.

In order to avoid paying overtime compensation, many employers are misclassifying their employees as independent contractors or exempt. But this is very risky. If the Department of Labor (DOL) finds out, noncompliant employers could face substantial penalties. Companies should consider taking some pro-active steps, such as performing a wage-and-hour audit to quickly spot issues, limit exposure and reduce the risk of future litigation.

To learn how to properly classify your employees read: Employee or Independent Contractor? How to Properly Classify Your Workers and Ensure Compliance

2. An increase in federal minimum wage

There’s also potential for a federal minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour.

While employees making minimum wage will appreciate the additional compensation, this could put a significant amount of financial strain on some small or medium-sized companies. Some experts are speculating that the increase could lead to job elimination due to business’ budget constraints.

But the effects of an increase to federal minimum wage may not impact your business as dramatically as you might think. In fact, some supporters say this will increase consumer spending and could increase your sales.

For tips on how to cope with a federal minimum wage increase read: 5 compliance mistakes you may not know you’re making.

3. Changes in marijuana laws

This year, several states legalized the use and distribution of marijuana. This has many employers won-dering how this will affect their workplace.

The two most common questions from employers are:

1. What should I do if an employee comes to work under the influence?
2. Am I liable if an employee gets into an accident while under the influence?

Marijuana is still federally illegal. Therefore, in the workplace, it should be treated as any other illegal substance. This means it should not be used, distributed, purchased or sold by anyone in your workplace. You should implement a comprehensive substance abuse policy that may include pre-employment, random, post-accident or reasonable suspicion drug testing.

4. “Ban the Box” laws

On job applications, many employers require applicants to indicate whether they have ever been convicted of a crime, breach of trust or other dishonesty in the workplace. Often, if applicants answer yes, employers also ask them to provide details of their conviction, such as dates, charges and sentencing.

Research has found that these questions may automatically and unfairly eliminate some applicants from the hiring process.

Criminal records can follow candidates for years, long after they’ve fulfilled their sentence. These convictions or arrests may not accurately represent who he or she is today.

For example, let’s say your applicant was charged with a DUI 20 years ago. Does that automatically make him or her unsuitable for your job opening today?

According to the EEOC, you should evaluate candidates on a case-by-case basis, including the nature and gravity of their offense, the time that’s passed, and the nature of job in question, to determine whether their convictions will impair their ability to be a safe and successful employee in your workplace.

As a result, several cities, counties and states have passed laws—commonly known as “Ban the Box”—that make it illegal for employers to ask criminal background related questions on job applications.

For more information about Ban the Box, read: Hiring Candidates with Criminal Records Isn’t Always Bad for Business.

Why try to keep up on the ever changing legal landscape? When you become an Insperity Workforce Optimization client, you get a team of specialists who will monitor changes for you and help you stay compliant with the laws that affect your business.