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Mar 24, 2014

By Ashley Kaplan

We’re only a few months into 2014 and we’re already seeing a swell of labor law activity. What are the most significant developments this quarter – and what should you be watching for the rest of year?

Let’s start with the biggest federal-level legal changes to hit the workplace thus far:

Increase in federal contractor minimum wage

Shortly after delivering his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers from $7.25 an hour to $10.10.

The executive order will affect workers starting on Jan. 1, 2015, and applies to new or renewed contracts only. It also includes provisions to raise minimum wages for tipped employees and prohibit contractors from paying disabled workers sub-minimum wages. Additionally, the minimum wage will be increased annually to reflect inflation changes in the Consumer Price Index.

As a result of this change, a mandatory federal poster is extremely likely – either as an updated Fair Labor Standards Act posting and/or a federal contractor poster change.

New affirmative action requirements

Federal contractors and subcontractors are the subject of another federal-level change this quarter. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued two new rules to strengthen the anti-discrimination protections for veterans and individuals with disabilities under the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Effective March 24, 2014, new regulations require covered federal contractors to set benchmarks for hiring veterans and disabled individuals, in addition to meeting obligations regarding data tracking and voluntary self-identification for applicants and employees.

Based on the new OFCCP regulations, the federal “Equal Employment Opportunity is the Law” poster is expected to undergo revisions. Although the new OFCCP regulations apply only to federal contractors, there is just one version of the EEO poster shared by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the OFCCP. We don’t know yet whether the partnering agencies will issue a mandatory update to the federal poster for all employers, or if they’ll develop a separate posting for federal contractors only.

A look ahead

Curious about the future labor law landscape? Employers should keep a close eye on the following issues and pending legal changes for 2014:

Push for minimum wage increase

While the wage hike mentioned earlier only affects employees of federal contract workers, it’s part of a sweeping movement to get Congress to raise the minimum wage for all workers to $10.10 an hour.

Supporters of an across-the-board minimum wage increase say that the 2009 federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 is outdated by today’s cost of living standards, pushing more Americans below the poverty line. Critics, on the other hand, argue that raising the minimum wage will force employers to cut jobs and hours, especially when coupled with the costs related to the Affordable Care Act.

Toward his goal of a more far-reaching minimum wage change, President Obama is urging state and local government leaders to take the lead and raise their minimum wages.

Immigration and E-verify

Immigration reform remains a hot topic for 2014. Proposed legislation includes making E-Verify mandatory for all employers and the potential release of a new version of the Form I-9 by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

While a broader application for E-Verify is unlikely to be passed, it’s highly probable that the USCIS will introduce a new Form I-9 this year. If so, employers will need to update their procedures to ensure they’re properly verifying employment eligibility for every new hire.

New OSHA recordkeeping rules

OSHA is planning to release a final rule in April 2014 that would:

  1. Update the list of industries partially exempt from maintaining a log of occupational injuries and illnesses (generally due to their low injury and illness rates); and,
  2. Revise employer requirements for reporting fatalities and certain injuries.

Again, employers will need to update their procedures (and use the latest OSHA forms) to satisfy the new requirements.

Expanded protections against discrimination

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) – a bill that would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity – is not expected to pass the House. Even still, it represents an important shift toward providing more protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Expect other laws and court rulings related to LGBT protections to make headlines in 2014.

Tomorrow: Stay tuned for an overview of the top legal developments – and issues to watch – on the state level.