Be ready for new paid leave laws. Beginning July 1, 2017, employees working in Cook County and the City of Chicago will be entitled to paid sick leave. The rules around the paid leave are somewhat complicated, with different accrual rates and carryover requirements, as well as additional paid leave entitlements when the leave is covered by the FMLA.
Be careful with “No-Fault” and Point Systems. The laws and ordinances discussed above also prohibit retaliation against employees who take covered leave, which could expose employers who use a “no-fault” or points-based attendance system to liability. If you use this type of attendance policy, it is important to ensure that time off covered by leave laws is not counted as a point or absence for disciplinary purposes.
Use the revised Form I-9. There is a new, revised Form I-9 that must be used for all new hires (and any form updates). The new form may be found at https://www.uscis.gov/i-9.
Don’t require “low wage employees” to sign non-competes. The Illinois Freedom to Work Act prohibits employers from imposing non-compete agreements on any employee who makes $13 per hour or less. Non-solicitation agreements for low wage workers were not specifically addressed in this new law, but they will likely be a topic of future litigation. Although only law in Illinois, employers in other states should be wary of requiring low-wage workers to sign non-compete agreements, as it has been a hot topic across the country. For instance, the New York Attorney General has been extremely critical of non-competes for low-wage employees and has publically announced various monetary settlements with employers who require low-level employees to sign non-competes as a condition of employment.
Make sure you are including “magic language” in confidentiality and trade secret agreements. The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 provides employers with new tools to protect against employees taking or misusing trade secrets. But to take full advantage of the tools the Act offers, you must include a “notice-of-immunity” in any new or updated agreements with employees, consultants, or independent contractors that govern trade secrets or confidential information. If you have not already done so, you should revise your standard agreements and confirm that any agreement signed on or after May 11, 2016 includes the required notice-of-immunity.
Review and update social media policies and practices. The Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act already prohibited employers from soliciting information to gain access to an employee’s social media account. However, with amendments that became effective on January 1, the law’s reach has been extended to cover all personal online accounts and to specifically prohibit employers from taking steps that would give the employer access to employee accounts. The amendments don’t prohibit employers from monitoring employees’ activity while at work but do set requirements for how any prohibited information inadvertently obtained is handled. It is important that you review existing internet and social media policies and practices to make sure that they are in line with these new requirements and that you ensure managers, human resources personnel and IT staff are aware of these standards.
Analyze corporate wellness programs. The EEOC issued corporate wellness program rules this past year that allow limited incentives for employees and spouses to participate in such programs, but that also include important privacy protections. Review any corporate wellness programs to ensure compliance with the new rules.
Understand and follow new OSHA rules. While it is not yet clear whether the new administration will be enforcing OSHA reporting rules, the new rules regarding electronic submission of injury information are effective. This means all employers with 250 or more employees, and employers with 20 or more employees in certain industries, are required to submit certain information electronically for posting on OSHA’s public website. The new OSHA rules also prohibit retaliation against employees for reporting work-related injuries or illnesses, and require employers to inform their employees of their right to report work-related injuries and illnesses free from retaliation.
Consider how marijuana is handled under drug policies. As more and more states are legalizing marijuana use, whether recreational or medical, it is critical to understand the specifics of the laws in the states in which you operate and review and update your drug and drug testing policies accordingly. 2016 saw new medical marijuana laws passed in Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota, and recreational marijuana legalized in Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. However, marijuana use remains unlawful under federal law.
Watch for state action to implement failed FLSA overtime regulations. The DOL’s new overtime rules that were scheduled to take effect on December 1 were blocked. However, some states have indicated that they plan on implementing the now-defunct proposed federal regulations (which would have raised the minimum salary threshold for the white-collar exemptions to $913/week) on the state-level. Keep an eye on state law to make sure you’re ready for any changes that will impact your company.
California employment agreements can’t choose a different law or venue. If you have California employees, be aware that a law signed in September 2016 prohibits the use of provisions in employment contracts that would either apply another state’s law or would require that any claims be litigated outside of California. This new standard applies to contracts entered into, modified or extended on or after January 1, 2017. California also passed protections relating to arbitration.
New Minimum Wages. More than 75% of U.S. states have increased the minimum wage for 2017. Some of these increases are due to inflation, but others are more targeted – including an increase by $1.95 per hour in Arizona. Massachusetts now has the highest state minimum wage – at $11 per hour – but many municipalities have minimum wages that are even higher.
Make sure you are complying with new state and local laws. State legislatures were very busy in 2016, resulting in many new laws for 2017. On the immigration front, Tennessee recently joined eight other states (AL, AZ, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC and UT) in requiring mandatory use of E-verify for most private employers, while California has implemented new protections for employees around the documentation presented to establish eligibility to work in the U.S. Both California and Massachusetts passed new equal pay laws, with the Massachusetts law being the first ever to prohibit inquiries into past compensation before an offer is made. Several states also implemented new laws relating to background checks (CA, CT, VT), access to personnel files (CO, OR), and weapons in the workplace (MO). And this is just a sampling. Make sure that you keep abreast of legal developments in the areas where your company operates so that you can comply with these standards.