employment laws

Employment laws to watch in 2019

Employment law is ever-evolving, and 2019 is shaping up to usher in its fair share of changes.

Employment laws tend to come in waves, with particular themes for each era. Long ago, child labor was common and legal. A patchwork of state and federal laws was eventually replaced when Congress set minimum age requirements with the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938.

At the turn of the last century, workers had few legal protections from wage theft or unsafe working conditions. Legislation and unions helped change that.

Today’s employment laws tend to be driven by perceptions of what’s fair to workers. From pay equity to transgender rights to anti-bullying, the pendulum is once again swinging in favor of greater protection of employees.

How will these laws impact your business and industry, and what’s the likelihood that they will expand in 2019? Here are a few major employment law trends sweeping the country:

Sick and family leave

In 2018, a new sick leave or family leave law seemed to appear every week. It’s probably the biggest HR issue that companies (and their PEOs) faced in the last year, and there are no signs that this trend will change in 2019.

Generally, the new state and municipal laws mandating paid sick time or family leave are more stringent than federal requirements, sometimes much more. While it was once the case that only businesses with 50 or more employees had to provide family and medical leave, now much smaller companies are often required to provide it, as applicable under state law.

One interesting twist in mandated leave trends: Vermont now requires that employers give crime victims time off to recover.

The best way to understand a specific state sick leave is to go to right to the source – your state website. Most states have a section dedicated to the sick leave law and some even provide sample policies and FAQs.

Pay equity

Another employment law trend that shows no sign of slowing down relates to pay equity. Companies in many parts of the country are now forbidden from asking a job candidate to reveal their salary history during the application or interview process.

The idea behind pay equity laws is to level the playing field for women and minorities who have been historically paid less. Now, businesses must offer a salary range or an hourly rate based on their budget and a candidate’s experience rather than on a candidate’s previous salary.

California, Hawaii, Vermont, Oregon, New York and many cities have already passed such laws and regulations.

Minimum wage

Continuing a trend that’s spread throughout the country, 14 states have increased minimum wages in 2019. These rates range from $8.55 per hour in Ohio to $12 per hour in Massachusetts.

An additional seven states and U.S. territories updated their minimum wage regulations in 2018.

In some cases, these states increased the minimums paid; in other instances, updates were made to mandatory posters that must be displayed in each business, such as the correct phone number to call with a complaint. But it’s not enough to pay attention to state minimum wages.

Cities from Portland, Maine, to San Diego, California are passing their own minimum wage standards which tend to be even higher than state and federal requirements.

It is interesting to note that seven states have no minimum-wage law or a minimum wage below the federal minimum wage: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wyoming. The federal minimum wage applies in these states.

Diversity

A broad mix of new rules enacted at the state level are designed to encourage diversity or protect vulnerable groups. Gathered under this broad description are regulations that mandate such things as:

  • Providing adequate restroom, shower and locker room facilities for transgender individuals
  • Establishing lactation rooms that are not in a bathroom
  • Mandating a certain number of women that public companies must include on their board

Harassment, discrimination and bullying

Fallout from the #MeToo movement prompted a host of new or updated requirements related to gender-based harassment and discrimination training.

Companies could once post an online training module to be finished by all new employees. Now businesses are required to train regularly on the topic.

In New York, businesses must conduct this type of training once a year for all employees. In California, all employees must be trained every two years. Massachusetts mandates an annual written reminder to employees of its harassment and discrimination policy.

You should also expect to see lawmakers across the country continue to expand the laws that regulate how to report and handle allegations of discrimination, harassment and bullying.

Marijuana, e-cigarettes and vaping

Our nation’s current hodgepodge of laws regulating, or deregulating, the use of marijuana has created many difficulties for employers. Unfortunately, that shows no signs of changing in 2019.

Some states have legalized only medical use, while others have decriminalized or legalized recreational use. And more states seem to be joining the parade each year. It’s important to note, however, that marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

All these changes mean that companies may need to update their corporate policies and employee handbooks to address drug testing and recreational use.

Multi-state businesses operating in jurisdictions with differing marijuana laws face the prospect of having to manage different rules for different parts of the company. 

Also on the horizon are new laws that define e-cigarettes and vaping as smoking. This means that, if you currently allow vaping in the office, you’ll have to treat it the same as tobacco and send smokers outdoors.

Biometrics and privacy

New technology eases many a business process, but it also creates new headaches. Take biometric identifiers, such as thumbprints and iris scans, or health metrics gathered for insurance purposes, for example.

New York proposed legislation that requires that companies develop a written policy outlining when biometric identifiers and biometric information will be destroyed after an employee leaves the organization. Texas, Illinois and Washington state have existing laws regulating biometric technology.

As this kind of technology becomes more common, expect to see more legislation that requires companies to maintain records of when biometric details are collected and when they are destroyed.

Tips to stay compliant

Now that you’ve read about all the recent changes to employment law, as well as those expected for 2019, you may be wondering how you can stay compliant. The fact is, it can be extremely challenging to keep up with every new law and regulation that applies to your business.

But there are some things you can do. These include:

  • Learn about laws affecting your industry by keeping up with the news published in trade magazines, and subscribe to legislative alerts from industry trade organizations.
  • Keep abreast of city, county and state laws by joining a chamber of commerce or other local or regional business groups that provide legislative news for members.
  • For national trends and legislation, join the Society for Human Resource Management and subscribe to their legislative alerts.
  • Regularly scan your state’s governmental websites. Many states do a good job of communicating with the companies they are tasked with regulating.
  • Hire an employment lawyer who can advise you and keep you abreast of the employment law changes that affect your business.

Another great option to keep up with HR-related legislation is to consider hiring a professional employer organization (PEO). A PEO can help you stay up to date on the latest rules and regulations that may impact your operations.

Make sure you’ve got your T’s crossed and I’s dotted when it comes to compliance. Learn more by downloading our free e-book Employment Law: Are You Putting Your Business at Risk?

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Employment Law: Are You Putting Your Business at Risk?
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