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Jan 15, 2014

By Carolyn A. Pellegrini

Wondering what to expect this year in the employment law world? Take a look at my predictions below.

1. State and local minimum wage laws

The New Year brings with it increases in the minimum wage in California, Florida, and New Jersey. Additionally, certain local governments are also raising their minimum wages, including Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

While some states tie changes in the minimum wage to inflation or the consumer price index (Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington), other states have no laws regarding the minimum wage (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee).

Be on the lookout for more state and local governments to consider raising their minimum wages – especially around the midterm elections in November.

2. The death of the unpaid internship

The U.S. Department of Labor has been saying for years that unpaid internships not so stringent requirements violate the Fair Labor Standards Act.

It seems that the DOL is finally putting its money where its mouth is. Heightened regulation of internships may bring about the demise of the unpaid internship altogether.

3. Smoke if you got ’em

Keep an eye on Colorado this year. The recent legalization of marijuana in the Centennial State should produce some interesting employment-related cases due to the fact that Colorado employers may continue to drug test employees and discipline those who fail drug tests just as they did in the past.

The increasing popularity in the movement to legalize marijuana nationwide suggests that Colorado will be the second (Washington decriminalize marijuana in 2012), state to deal with the dichotomy, but certainly will not be the last. Alaska is heading towards becoming the third state to legalize pot.

4.. Expanding LGBTQ protections

Like the minimum wage laws, state and local governments are at the forefront of this movement. Legislation relating to LGBTQ protections has been pending in the federal government for years, but to no avail. (See, e.g., Employment Non-Discrimination Act – H.R. 1755; and, the Family and Medical Leave Inclusion Act – H.R. 1751).

Instead, states are taking up the reigns. Recent focus has centered on marriage equality, but look for a corresponding movement toward enactment of laws preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment.

Last year, Delaware passed a law banning discrimination in public and private employment based on sexual orientation. On Jan. 10, 2014, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on a number of factors including sexual orientation and gender identity in state employment. Expect more states and local governments to pass anti-discrimination laws in the coming year.

5. Continued bickering over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Reforms which took effect as of Jan. 1, 2014, include expanded Medicaid coverage, individual requirement to have health insurance, use of health insurance exchanges, health insurance premium cost sharing subsidies, guaranteed availability of insurance, no annual limits on coverage, essential health benefits and wellness programs in insurance.

Implementation of the highly controversial penalty against employers who fail to offer health insurance ($2,000 per employee, exclusion for first 30 employees) has been postponed until Jan. 1, 2015. This will certainly make headlines toward the end of the year as the implementation date looms.

Bonus Trend: New iterations of old items will resurface before the November mid-terms and fade again shortly after – Equal Rights Amendment (H.R. Res. 56), Employee Rights Act (S. 1507, H.R. 2810), Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 84, H.R. 377), and Federal Right-to-Work Bill (S. 204).

This was originally published on Montgomery McCracken’s Employment Law Matters blog.

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