December, 2014

3 Hyper-Local Laws Employers Can’t Afford to Ignore

Hyper-local laws are the latest overarching trend in employment law, as municipal governments increasingly adopt laws applicable to private employers within their localities.  The reach of these laws includes new protected classifications, new notice obligations, and even paid leave mandates – often exceeding employer obligations under federal and state laws.  Woe to the unwary employer who is inattentive to these local legal requirements!

Currently the three hottest areas in local employment legislation are:

  • Paid sick leave,
  • “Ban-the-box” laws and
  • Pregnancy accommodation.

Are your workplace management policies in compliance?

Paid Sick Leave

Originating in San Francisco, California, laws requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees have gradually swept across the continental U.S., currently impacting employers in a dozen cities in California, Washington, Oregon, Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey.  The states of Connecticut, California and Massachusetts also mandate paid sick leave, and a grass-roots movement in New Jersey, where paid sick leave is currently the law in eight cities, is pushing to mandate paid sick leave state-wide.

The details of the paid sick leave laws vary by location, but there are some commonalities among the laws in the northeast region, impacting employees in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut:

Five days of leave, carryover for 12 months

The paid sick leave laws in the northeast all mandate accrual of 1 hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of five days of sick leave annually (contrasted with as many as 9 days for cities on the west coast and 3 days under the California law).  All require that employees be permitted to carry over their unused sick days for a full year, although employees need not be permitted to use more than 5 days in any given year.

Inclusive of part-time and temporary employees

Even short-term employees are eligible to accrue paid sick leave under these laws – a population that employment policies typically consider ineligible for any paid leave benefits.nd ch

Usage extends to family members

Sick days are no longer just for an employee who is sick or hurt.  Employees covered by the paid sick leave laws must be permitted to use their days to care for family members with an illness or injury, or to seek preventive medical care, and “family” is broadly defined to include as many as three generations of legally-recognized family relationships.

Notice to employees and workplace postings are required

Employees must receive specific notice with regard to their rights under the city paid sick leave laws.  In addition, the laws mandate that employers post notice of the key provisions of the law in their work locations.

Act now

Covered employers that have not yet done so should review their paid leave policies to confirm they comply with the new laws, as well as distribute and post the legally-mandated notices.

Ban the Box Laws

“Ban the box” laws prohibit inquiries on the employment application and at preliminary stages of the hiring process with regard to an applicant’s criminal history.  Presently six states (Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island), and at least ten cities throughout the U.S. (including in California, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, and the District of Columbia) have adopted ban the box laws that apply to private employers.

While all the laws permit limited exceptions, such as where federal law precludes hiring individuals with particular criminal histories, the specifics of these exceptions differ by locality.  As a prudent safeguard to assure compliance, employers should:

  • Check employment applications to be sure they do not request information on criminal history, unless a legal exception applies;
  • Train managers and others who interview job applicants regarding appropriate inquiries about criminal history; and
  • Before making employment decisions based on adverse criminal history, consider carefully the nature of the offense, its recency, the accuracy of the report and evidence of rehabilitation, all relative to the duties and setting of the job at issue.

Pregnancy Accommodation

New York City, Philadelphia, Providence, R.I., and Washington, D.C. have each recently passed laws that provide enhanced protection to pregnant employees.  Specifically, these new laws require employers to:

  •  provide accommodations to pregnant employees, such as water, bathroom or rest breaks; leave for medical appointments; assistance with manual labor; job restructuring or modified work schedules; or temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work;
  • accommodate recovery of employees after childbirth;
  • not retaliate against employees protected by the law; and
  • provide notice to employees of the laws’ provisions.

New Jersey, Minnesota, Illinois, West Virginia and Maryland have similarly amended their state laws within the past year to require such accommodations.  Employers in covered locations need to be very careful, and are advised to consult legal counsel, before making adverse employment decisions (such as termination, demotion, or a pay reduction) that impact employees who are currently pregnant or who recently took leave to recover from childbirth or other pregnancy-related conditions.

Stay Ahead of the Trend

It is all too easy for employers, particularly those with staff in multiple locations, to overlook these and other local legislative mandates. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that employers consult legal counsel who are familiar with not only federal and state law, but also the local laws applicable to each location in which the business has employees.

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