Along with states, municipalities are leading the way in expanding employee rights by enacting various laws to protect workers and expand their rights.
So, if keeping up with state and federal law updates is not challenging enough, employers now find themselves trying to keep up with localities stretching their own legislative power to carve out rights and benefits for those employed in their city.
Municipal laws are being enacted at such a fast rate that it is sometimes hard for employers to keep up. Here are five rapidly developing issues that may be coming soon to even more municipalities:
- Paid Sick Leave
Paid sick leave laws continue to create headaches for employers that may be tasked with not only understanding their legal obligations under a particular law, but also with knowing how the law intersects with other laws plus their own absence and paid time off policies. Private employers in many municipalities are required (or soon will be required) to provide some form of paid sick leave to eligible employees.
While no federal law requires paid sick leave in private employment (other than Executive Order 13706 relating to federal contractors and subcontractors), there is a growing trend at the state and local levels to protect employees who may otherwise be forced to choose between going to work sick and losing pay (or even their jobs in some cases). Paid sick leave provides employees with financial peace of mind when they cannot work due to illness or because they need to care for a sick family member.
Considering the nuances of these municipal leave laws, employers face a daunting task in determining how these laws overlap with state requirements (if any) and federal requirements (e.g., the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)) and managing conflicting eligibility requirements.
And depending on the circumstances, an employer may be required to comply with a variety of different leave laws, including:
- Paid sick leave;
- Paid family leave;
- Military leave;
- Bereavement leave;
- Blood donor leave;
- Domestic violence leave;
- Emergency responder leave; and
- School activities leave
Employers must know how local paid sick leave laws interact with such leave laws to make sure they correctly incorporate them into their employee handbooks, policies and notices.
- Ban the Box
Another growing trend among municipalities involves “ban the box” laws. The name stems from the box on job applications that prospective employees are often asked to check if they have ever been convicted of a crime. These laws make it illegal to include criminal history questions on initial job applications. However, some prohibitions go further to ban such questions until after a first interview or until a conditional employment offer has been made.
Many of the municipalities that have passed these “ban the box” laws cite the fact that those with criminal histories are often categorically rejected by employers. The primary goal behind these “ban the box” measures is to prevent qualified, rehabilitated job applicants from being automatically excluded from consideration without the chance for an interview. These laws are also thought to reduce recidivism.
- Predictable Scheduling
Another new development employers need to be aware of is the rise of predictable scheduling legislation. These laws aim to provide workers with greater control over their workplace schedules, terms and conditions by requiring an employer to provide additional compensation to an employee if the employer makes last-minute scheduling changes.
Predictable scheduling laws aim to provide employees with increased stability and certainty when it comes to their work schedules so they can make child care arrangements or attend school events, for example. These laws also prohibit employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees who request scheduling changes.
It is important to provide notice to employees of their rights under these laws in employee handbooks and offer details on how schedules are set, and how employees should request any scheduling changes.
Predictable work arrangements do not only encompass changes to one’s start times or place of work, but would give workers advance notice if, for example, a special project would require longer hours so that adequate caregiving arrangements can be made.
- Salary History and Pay Equity
In an effort to advance pay equity and eradicate the gender wage gap, a significant number of municipalities are enacting equal pay legislation or substantially revising longstanding equal pay laws. Such changes include:
- Strengthening equal pay laws;
- Narrowing an employer’s defenses; and
- Expanding an employee’s entitlement to remedies and damages.
Some laws are aimed at increasing pay transparency by prohibiting employers from banning employees from discussing their wages. Other jurisdictions have taken steps to prohibit employers from requesting applicants’ salary history and from basing hiring decisions on past salary.
This salary history question prohibition aims to reduce wage inequality between men and women. Having knowledge about past salaries when making hiring decisions may perpetuate past discrimination when women may have been paid less than men for doing the same work.
Therefore, if employers are restricted from asking salary history questions, then applicants who may have been underpaid for discriminatory reasons will not have their compensation history used against them. Some of these laws extend equal protections to all protected classes (beyond gender).
- Minimum Wage
And finally, while the federal minimum wage has not increased since it was raised to $7.25 in July 2009, many states and localities have raised their minimum wages well above the federal minimum, with some of them scheduling increases to rates as high as $15.00 per hour.
To help ensure that the minimum wage keeps pace with the rising cost of living, many municipalities adjust (or will adjust) their minimum wage rates annually. Others adjust their minimum wage rates periodically through legislation or ballot initiatives.
For some of these local minimum wage laws, compliance involves little more than a change in the rate of pay. However, there can be complications. For instance, many states and municipalities have minimum wage rates that vary depending on the size of the employer. This means if a company has grown or downsized during a year, it may find itself in a different tier.
Employer Action Required
So what does the influx of new local laws mean for employers? First and foremost, an employer must now not only decide whether a municipal law affects its workplace but also determine how it relates to federal and state law.
Then, the employer should review its workplace policies, rules and employee handbooks to determine how a particular municipal law affects longstanding policies and practices and what changes may need to be made.