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Mar 25, 2014

By Ashley Kaplan

The legal environment for employers is always changing. And nowhere is this felt more strongly than at the state (and even local) level.

While every year tends to bring a handful of federal labor law developments, a lot of the legislative momentum happens in the state legislatures.

We’re only three months into the new year and we’ve already tallied the following state changes:

Minimum wage

Weeks before President Obama delivered his 2014 State of the Union Address vowing to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10, a group of states were rolling out their own minimum wage increases. Effective Jan. 1, 2014, the minimum wage rose in the following 13 states:

  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

(Delaware’s next increase goes into effect June 1, 2014; California and the District of Columbia, July 1, 2014.)

The trend, which reflects mounting concerns about the spread of low-wage jobs pushing more Americans below the poverty line, is expected to continue in 2014, with dozens of states supporting minimum wage hikes by year’s end.

Counties and cities can set minimum wages, too, so employers need to be aware of possible changes in the locations where they conduct business.

Employment posters

With every wage change like this, employers have a responsibility to update their state labor law postings to maintain compliance. Other state changes requiring new employee-facing state labor law posters this quarter include:

  • Missouri Workers’ Compensation Poster – Updated to reflect a clarification regarding employee fraud, explaining that an employee who knowingly makes a claim for workers’ compensation with intent to defraud is a class D felony.
  • Arizona Unemployment Insurance Poster – Updated to reflect a clarification on how employees can file a claim for unemployment insurance.
  • New Hampshire Whistleblower Protection Poster – Updated to reflect that employers cannot retaliate against employees who refuse to participate in activities they believe are a violation of the law.
  • Louisiana Earned Income Credit Poster – Updated with 2014 income limits for eligibility for Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC).
  • Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Poster – Updated to reflect an extensive overhaul to the workers’ compensation system, with the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission replacing the court-based system to allow for more timely processing of claims.
  • Nevada Fair Employment Poster – Updated with a new protected category prohibiting discrimination on the basis of genetic information.
  • Maryland Fair Employment Poster and Pregnant & Working Poster – The Fair Employment Poster has been updated with a new protected category (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender/sex), as well as new information about retaliation and filing complaints. A new Pregnant & Working Poster explains that employers must now provide certain reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees who notify their employers of a temporary disability.

“Ban the box” background and credit checks

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee recently signed an ordinance that prohibits private and public employers from asking job applicants about their criminal histories on job applications or in interviews – commonly referred to as “ban the box” legislation.

This makes San Francisco the ninth jurisdiction to limit the use of criminal background checks for private employers, joining the cities of Buffalo, NY; Newark, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; and Seattle, WA and the states of Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan and Rhode Island. Many other areas have banned the box for public employers and contractors, and still more – including Congress – have proposed legislation.

With an estimated 65 million Americans bearing an arrest or conviction record that makes finding work difficult, advocates of “ban the box” legislation hope this change opens doors for more applicants and reduces our nation’s lingering joblessness.

There are similar legislative efforts to ban or minimize the use of credit checks in the hiring process, with some states already deeming these types of background checks illegal.

A longer-range view for employers

What other labor law changes can employers anticipate this year? Based on the major issues influencing the workplace today, employers should be on the lookout for:

  • Broader anti-discrimination protections – Workplace discrimination and harassment are barred by a number of federal laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Beyond the laws prohibiting discrimination due to race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, genetic information, citizenship status and age, many states are enacting laws that expand protections based on other grounds, such as sexual orientation, height/weight and marital status.
  • Rise in paid leave legislation – While it remains a combative issue at the federal level, more states will adopt paid leave laws this year, particularly sick leave and parental leave. Supporters of broader paid leave benefits are quick to point out that family-friendly policies help create a healthier, happier work environment and more loyal employees. Case in point: the District of Columbia is poised to implement the Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013. Once approved and fully effective, the law will permit employees who have worked at least 90 days to use accrued leave, in addition to allowing certain paid leave provisions for temporary workers.
  • Ban on e-cigarettes – Although electronic cigarettes are gaining popularity with smokers seeking an alternative to smoking tobacco, many employers are taking a stance against their use in the workplace. Several states and local municipalities have already banned e-cigarettes and other vaping devices, leading employers to update their “no smoking” policies and display posters communicating the ban.