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Labor & Employment Law Update 2015

Well, the good news is that labor numbers look very good for US businesses, which means there are more employees in the workplace and the economy is showing good signs for recovery. However, with more employees comes responsibility as the frost from a slowed economy begins to thaw.

Generally, most American workplaces have been operating with a ‘bare bones’ workforce. This is likely to have significant implications on our courts and workplace morale. The more employees there are, the more likely some workers will introduce dynamics that some employers have not observed before – including worker activism. Of course, this is a mere effort to ‘look into the crystal ball’ but there are some definite issues that face employers in the way of labor and employment law changes for 2015 that we take the time to touch on below.

Summary of US and California Labor Law Updates

1. Minimum Wage Increases

Depending on what city, state, industry, and sector one works, hourly minimum
wages continue to increase. At MMC, we have kept our clients abreast of the changes that occurred during the summer with audits and updates provided through workplace posters and Client E-Newsletters, however, we also encourage everyone to take a moment to read the latest rules. Employers are legally obligated to keep up with the minimum wage changes and to honor the changes. This means for employers of hourly employees and salaried workers alike, you must take note of the dynamic changes to wage and hour laws. This is especially critical for California employers who must assure that “exempt”/salaried workers are earning at least two times the minimum wage. Generally, these minimum wage increases really do impact most business owners. To track the latest in wage increases, visit this article about minimum wage increases.

2. Paid Sick Leave

The rules regarding employing labor are, in actuality, becoming simpler. The primary rule: treat workers ‘fairly’ and the same and you can stray clear of labor law violations. One new area of labor law changes slated for 2015 is that which promotes paid sick time for workers who consistently report to work. Specifically, California, New York, Washington, and Oregon, employers must allow employees who have been employed for at least 30 days to accrue and use sick pay. In California, this will mean that for every 30 hours worked, a worker should accrue at least 1 hour of “paid sick time off.” Accrual does not necessarily mandate that all sick leave requests will be approved and use may be restricted. The objective is to assure fair and safe workplaces where workers are not afraid to take personal time off when they are sick or caring for a close family member. To learn more about the new sick leave laws, visit here.

3. Labor Contractor-Client Liability

Many times, the laws that are promulgated with the New Year reflect changes that have been trending within the courts and previewed through legal commentators, lobbyists, and legislative floor debates. Among one of those changes that many in the Labor & Employment Law arena have anticipated is California’s AB 1987. This law holds employers responsible for the errors of the agencies they may rely on for supplying their workforce. For example, if an employer wants to only hire purple Martians to market their campaigns, then contracting with an agency that mistreats, doesn’t pay, or unfairly discriminates in order to deliver the labor will only implicate the employer contracting for these services. In other words, employers may not shift their legal duty to fairly and lawfully hire, supervise, and fire to another. Additionally, those relying on temp-to-perm hiring solutions should also examine their practice and reliance on agencies that engage in anything less than what they themselves would want to be accountable. This also imposes a duty on employers to “know” what practices are at issue with these same labor partners. To read the text of this law, visit this article.

4. Mandatory Expanded Anti-Harassment Training

Laws from the protection of bullies continue to expand and this includes within the workplace. While bullying itself has not, per se, been added as a protection, legislatures around the country (California as well) are moving to make sure that harassment, threats, stalking and terrorizing from people who are simply bullies occurs no more. To assure this, the once-every-two-years mandatory training required by AB 1825 for supervisors honing their sexual harassment prevention skills is now to include anti-bullying harassment training as well. To read more about this law, visit sites like this one dedicated to the prevention of workplace bullying.

5. Extended Statute of Limitations for Wage and Hour Violations

Wage and Hour enforcement schemes will be undergoing many changes in 2015. Some changes will come about through inter-agency work decrees where, for example, the California Department of Industrial Relations will share data and resources with the Employment Development Department, and the State Franchise Tax Board, and the Contractors Board, and more. From a global perspective, the ‘information highway’ is changing the world we live in. From a practical business perspective, this means that everything that is reported by a business to any regulatory agency must be consistent and reflect labor law compliant business practices.

How does this translate to your workplace? The bandwidth for making errors in payroll and taxes is narrowing. In 2015, an employer can be held liable for not only up to three (or four) years of faulty wage and hour practices but now an employee can be awarded liquidated damages for up to three years of additional damages (instead of limited to only one year). With the passage of AB 1723 and 2074, regulatory agencies may now act as compliance “police” and order employers to actually pay back wages, after a mere audit. Yes, 2015 will see so interesting new developments in the world of labor law. Learn more about the California Division of Labor Enforcement.

6. Employment Law and Discrimination Additions

Employment law varies from labor law in that its focus is not so much as wages but the laws which are wholly centered on assuring everyone is entitled to fair and equal employment opportunities. Thus the US Constitution, its amendments, together with state constitutions, statutes, and policies aim to guarantee free enterprise and all workers an ‘even playing field’ of opportunities. With this said, 2015 is ushering in the protection of equal opportunities to unpaid interns/externs. What this means is that advertisements for unpaid internships/externships will need to mirror good human resources best practices that are traditionally relied upon for hiring employees. In addition to hiring fairly and equally, unpaid interns/externs will also be protected from unlawful treatment while on-the-job involving harassment and discriminatory actions motivated by the sex, ethnicity, age, disability, nationality of interns/externs. Essentially, if you cannot unlawfully harass or discriminate against an employee, you may not also harass or discriminate against an unpaid worker for the same reasons. Learn more about employment law and discrimination here.

7. Immigration Changes and Protections from Discrimination

As immigration reform develops, laws permitting the undocumented to seek driver’s licenses have been expanded to prevent adverse employment actions against workers who possess such licenses. I am certain that as the new year proceeds, we will learn more about how to manage workplace practices inherent to an employee’s use of these driver’s licenses such as when I-9 forms are completed, or how background tests are performed. How an employer responds to learning of a worker’s immigration status can pave the way, if one is unaware of these protections, to employment discrimination claims. Read more about employer obligations.

In summary, we trust this brief overview of legal changes will prove helpful to you and yours in the upcoming year. On behalf of everyone at MMC, we wish everyone a healthy and prosperous 2015 and invite you to follow us on Facebook, Twitter at https://twitter.com/MMCHR, and to subscribe to our online monthly updates. You may also call us at (800) 899-MMCI (6624) to arrange for an in-person consultation.