27

April, 2022

Maine as National Example Disappoints Employers with Newest Law on Paid Time Off

By Tracey I. Levy

A plethora of paid leave laws currently plague multi-jurisdiction employers and they seem to multiply with each passing year. The concept of paid sick leave, which originated in San Francisco in 2007, has spread to 16 states and at least 25 localities across the country.

Sick Leave Isn’t Just for Being Sick, And Other Complications

“Sick” leave as defined by many of these laws is a far cry from typical employer policies in that usage often extends beyond an employee’s own illness and injury to include:

  • routine well visits for medical care;
  • care of an employee’s family member (in the broadest sense);
  • “safe” time for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or similar crimes; and
  • coverage when a school, childcare center or place of employment is closed due to a public health emergency.

Particularly challenging for employers are the differences between the laws, in terms of leave time granted, permitted uses, accruals, carryover and requisite notice. So while the laws consistently state that an employer can maintain its own sick leave policy provided it meets all the elements of the legally-mandated sick leave, the varying requirements collectively make it nearly impossible to have one fully-compliant one-size-fits-all policy.

Maine Approached It Differently

Enter Maine with its paid personal leave law. It was refreshing in its simplicity.  Rather than adding an ever more expansive list of reasons why employees could use paid leave, the Maine law says the reason is irrelevant.  If you have more than 10 employees, full-time, part-time or otherwise, then you must provide them with up to 40 hours of paid leave, per year, for any purpose, provided they give reasonable notice. While there surely are employers of that size who do not already provide 5 days of paid time off per year, a great many provide that much or more. For those with existing paid time off policies, tailoring those policies to comply with the new Maine law should be relatively easy.

The only element of the law that deviates from typical employer practice (but aligns with most of the paid sick leave laws), is that employees need to be able to carryover up to 40 hours of accrued, unused paid leave from one calendar year to the next. When not subject to legal mandates, private sector employers typically restrict carryover of paid time off to a fixed number of days and require that the carryover days be used within a duration of three to six months into the new year. Employers may incur a cost when carryover is mandated, in that accrued days may need to be reflected as a pending liability in their business records.  Employers are therefore disinclined to allow too much in the way of carryover. While the Maine carryover mandate may require employers to modify their vacation or other paid time off policies, overall the law is simpler than the approach taken in other states and localities.

And Then Maine Complicated Things

But now, things have changed a bit.  Maine’s governor just signed a new law, which takes effect January 1, 2023, that amends the state’s wage statute to require employers to pay out employees for accrued, unused vacation upon termination.  Other states, like Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Illinois, have similar legal requirements, which thereby discourage employers from granting vacation time in a lump sum at the outset of the year, and deny employees the flexibility that comes with front-loaded vacation time.

Lesson for Legislators

Adopting ever more prescriptive paid time off laws sows confusion and impedes uniformity in approach for multi-jurisdiction employers.  As Maine demonstrated with its 2021 paid personal leave law, states can achieve the overarching goal of granting employees the assurance of paid days off to manage their personal lives, while minimizing the strictures that impede employers’ ability to draft consistent policies and manage their workforce.

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30

January, 2022

Persistent Pay Inequity Drives Legal Mandates for Employers to Publicly Post Wages Being Offered

By Tracey I. Levy and Alexandra Lapes

Five or six years ago, in speaking with a start-up client about social media policies and wage transparency, the client explained they made available to all on their intranet a spreadsheet with salary information for the company’s entire management team.  While that practice remains extraordinary even in 2022, a new report from The Conference Board and Emsi Burning Glass highlights a growing trend toward greater wage transparency.  Among the key findings from Emsi Burning Glass’s analysis of job openings reportedly posted on nearly 40,000 separate sources, including job portals and employers’ career sites, was that:

  • more than 12 percent of all such postings in fall 2021 included salary data; and
  • nearly 16 percent of all noncollege occupations in fall 2021 included salary data.

That is about a 65 percent increase in wage transparency in just 2 ½ years – since April 2019.

The Conference Board/Emsi Burning Glass report attributes much of the increase to the current competitive labor market, where wage transparency is just one of numerous proactive steps that organizations are taking to attract applicants.  State and local legislatures – notably including New York City and Connecticut – will be further fueling that trend, as new laws take effect that require wage range disclosures in the hiring process.

Pre-Existing Landscape of Wage Transparency Laws

The earliest of these laws date back to California in 2018.  The California version, as well as those passed in the subsequent two years in Washington, Maryland, and Toledo and Cincinnati, Ohio, require an employer to disclose the wage range for a position upon the applicant’s request.  Colorado took transparency to a new level in 2021, and it requires private employers to affirmatively state the wage rate or range with any job posting for a position to be performed in Colorado or remotely from another location.  Connecticut and New York City have taken Colorado’s lead, with new wage transparency laws passed just in the last seven months.

Disclosing Wage Range for Connecticut Job Postings

Effective as of October 1, 2021, Connecticut employers must provide job applicants with the wage range for the position to which the applicant is applying, even if the applicant does not inquire.  The law states that this information must be disclosed either when requested or, if no request is made, then no later than the time a job offer is made.   Connecticut further requires employers to provide this type of wage range information to current employees:

  • who change positions with the employer; or
  • at an employee’s first request.

The “wage range” to be disclosed is defined as the range of wages an employer anticipates relying on when setting wages for a position, and may include reference to:

  • any applicable pay scale;
  • a previously determined range of wages for the position;
  • the actual range of wages for those employees currently holding comparable positions; or
  • the employer’s budgeted amount for the position.

Notably, recent guidance issued by the Connecticut Labor Department clarified that the law extends to anyone who applies for a job with a Connecticut employer, even if the employee is working remotely from another state.

NYC Requires Similar Disclosure, with Less Guidance

Beginning May 14, 2022, New York City employers with at least four employees (inclusive of contractors and employed family members), may not post job listings without stating the minimum and maximum salary for the position.   Failing to include this wage range information is deemed an unlawful discriminatory practice, and the requirement extends beyond job advertisements to posted promotion and transfer opportunities.  The law states only that the wage range may include the lowest to the highest salary the employer believes in good faith at the time of the posting it would pay for the advertised job, promotion or transfer opportunity.  We anticipate that, closer to the effective date, the city will provide additional guidance regarding the appropriate measure of the wage range.

A Growing Trend

Nevada and Rhode Island have similarly passed wage transparency laws in the past year.  Both states have staked a middle ground on when such information must be disclosed, but each prioritizes a different group.  Nevada requires that wage range information be automatically provided to each job applicant who is interviewed, but only given to employees if they request the information in the context of a promotion or transfer.   Rhode Island requires that wage range information be given to job applicants if they request it and prior to discussing compensation, but requires that employees automatically be provided the wage range at time of hire, when the employee moves into a new position, and whenever the employee requests it.

Similar legislation  is currently making its way through the committee review process in New York State.  As currently drafted it would mandate disclosure of the wage range both for the internal or external posting of each job opportunity, and upon an employee’s request.  A bill pending in Massachusetts would take the more modest approach of requiring disclosure only upon the applicant’s or employee’s request.  While we are not currently aware of any similar bills pending in New Jersey, the state has taken strong legislative action in the past several years to mandate pay equity, and we anticipate that a wage transparency bill may be forthcoming.

Reconciling Theory and Reality

The desire to counter pay inequity, which persists particularly for women, people of color, and those at the intersectionality of those two characteristics, drives this legislative mandate of wage range transparency, as stated in the preamble to many of these new laws.  The theory is that equipping workers with greater information will enable them to better negotiate their pay.

A recent article in Money magazine calls that theory into question, citing the experience of Buffer, a tech start-up.  Not unlike our client from five years ago (which was not Buffer), Buffer had gained some notoriety for publishing a public spreadsheet, beginning back in 2013, that included the salaries for its entire workforce.  According to the article, the company later began analyzing its pay practices and found a gender pay gap of 15 percent in 2019.  This is just slightly better than the 18 percent pay gap reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics both in 2019 and 2020.  The article continues by noting that it was only through additional, affirmative measures taken by the company that Buffer said it was able to reduce the pay gap to 5.5 percent in 2021 – pay transparency alone, even over multiple years, had not made a difference.

Where that Leaves Employers in the Tri-State Area

Currently, employers in Connecticut have an existing obligation under the recent wage transparency law to update their job posting practices and include wage range information.  New York City employers must prepare for the May 14, 2022 effective date of the city’s pay transparency requirement.  Employers in the rest of New York State and in New Jersey should anticipate that they likely are just a few years away from having to meet similar requirements.

Moving beyond mere legal compliance, employers that are committed to pay equity should take a fresh look at their pay practices.  In the past, being a better negotiator or coming in with a higher base from a prior job were accepted explanations for differences in compensation among otherwise equally qualified employees with different protected characteristics.  The impetus behind the newest pay transparency laws suggests that there is less legislative acceptance of that explanation.  Consistent with the Emsi Burning Glass report, in this time of the “great resignation” and a ready flight of talent seeking better opportunities, employers may want to consider a different analysis and approach to their pay practices.

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25

October, 2021

Table of Vaccine Mandates and Latest Legal Updates: Takeaways Fall 2021

Our Fall 2021 issue of Takeaways covers the state of COVID-19 workplace requirements and guidelines (this time focusing on vaccinations), new age discrimination protections in New Jersey and Connecticut, changes in wage and hour requirements, the newest New York City guidance on background checks, and the Biden administration’s gradual roll back of determinations from the past four years to maximize employee protections.

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21

July, 2021

Employers Throughout the NY Tri-State Area Face New Obligations: Takeaways Summer 2021

Summer 2021 has brought changes for employers throughout the New York tri-state area, as New York is mandating employers plan for the next pandemic; New Jersey is cracking down on wage law violations; and Connecticut passed four significant new employment mandates on cannabis use, nursing mothers, pay equity and voting. Employer obligations in response to COVID, on the other hand, are now dictated largely at the federal level. Our Summer 2021 issue of Takeaways covers all these legal developments, as well as the most recent federal employment law changes and relevant court decisions.

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25

June, 2021

Protecting the Unvaccinated Presents an Employee Relations Quandary for Employers

By Tracey I. Levy

Under the Biden administration, the CDC has taken a strong position in support of vaccinating as many individuals in the United States as possible. The latest, very well-publicized carrot to incentivize that effort has come in the form of a lifting of COVID-19-related precautionary safety measures for those who are vaccinated. Masking, social distancing, workplace signage about effective hand washing – are all a relic of the past for those who have reached the point of “fully vaccinated.” But as discussed in our prior blog post, the guidance from OSHA is that masking and other COVID-19 precautions should remain in place for employees who are not vaccinated.

Very few workplaces have achieved the point of 100 percent vaccination, and therefore the practical effect of the government’s duality in approach is to bring the full weight of peer pressure down on those who are not vaccinated. The guidance from the EEOC stresses that accommodations must be made for those who are not vaccinated for medical or religious reasons, but employers who endeavor to do so are running into a significant employee relations problem. How do you provide vaccinated employees with the flexibility to resume the panoply of normal activities, while the unvaccinated subset of the workplace is immediately recognizable by their masks and social distancing measures? How do you resume pre-COVID activities like business travel, especially internationally, when a subset of your workforce may be unable to participate due to COVID restrictions? For workplaces that have been working largely remotely since March 2020 and are eagerly anticipating bringing employees back to the office in-person (at least several days per week), how do you rebuild team culture and fully integrate your newest hires who perhaps only know their colleagues by screen shots when any indoor group gathering will necessarily require sufficient spacing of a subset of the team and face masks will quickly brand those who opted out of vaccination?

There is no federal government guidance on this, currently, and a subset of states are contemplating laws similar to that which already took effect in Montana, which prohibit private employers from treating individuals differently based on vaccination status. Options employers may want to consider include:

• Maintain masking protocols in common areas, like pantries, break rooms and rest rooms;

o Those who are vaccinated may balk at being asked to continue masking, but the imposition is relatively modest, especially as the past year has gotten many individuals accustomed to having a mask on their person whenever they are out with others.

• Permit vaccinated employees to remove masks at their workspaces, and adjust seating arrangements where possible to provide social distancing between those who are not vaccinated;

• Explore options for having meetings, particularly larger gatherings, at outdoor venues;

• Schedule team meetings in conference rooms that allow sufficient spacing for six feet of social distancing, at least to accommodate the subset of employees who are unvaccinated;

o A conference room built for 20 can be reduced to only accommodating seven if everyone is socially-distanced, but a hybrid approach, in which social distancing might only be necessary for two or three individuals, could potentially allow that same conference room to seat a team of 15.

• Alternatively, continue to conduct team meetings by videoconference;

o One of the great benefits of meetings in which the entire team is participating by videoconference is that the participants all are equally-spaced and sized, and can more closely approximate speaking at the same audio level. That is a great equalizer when compared to in-person meetings in which some attendees can physically dominate the room and the conversation, and continuing videoconference meetings in the current environment similarly places the vaccinated and the unvaccinated on an equal plane.

• Reserve one or more smaller conference rooms or similar workspaces, perhaps outfitted with a portable HEPA filter for better air circulation, for use by unvaccinated employees when they are having one-to-one meetings with others;

o Some unvaccinated employees, especially those who are not vaccinated due to underlying medical conditions, may find their own mask to be insufficient protection when meeting with others who may not be masked, including clients or visitors whose vaccination status may not be known. Offering those employees an alternative, larger work space in which to conduct their meetings with social distancing and additional air filtration can reduce that concern, without “outing” the unvaccinated employee as someone with an underlying medical condition.

• Explore team-building activities that leverage the outdoors;

o As employers look to rebuild a cohesive culture, planning activities or events outside notably reduces the risks of COVID-19 exposure and enables unvaccinated employees to participate more freely.

• Advise managers, and all employees, to be sensitive to the range of reasons why employees may choose not to be vaccinated;

o To the same extent that we ask managers to address or report instances in which employees are engaging in harassment, retaliation or other inappropriate behaviors under respectful workplace policies, we want them to similarly address or report instances in which employees are being harassed or retaliated against based on their vaccination status.

• Regularly thank employees for adhering to protocols and being sensitive to their colleagues.

o None of this is easy, the stress of the past year has been overwhelming for many, and those who are vaccinated may have limited patience for continued COVID-19 precautions. Employers that acknowledge the strain and continue to express appreciation can help mitigate the negative impact on employee morale.

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