This year, state legislators across the country focused increasingly on employment legislation, introducing bills that would impose mandates on employers such as paid sick leave, pay equity, fair scheduling, and a multitude of other requirements. Legislators were largely unsuccessful in implementing these programs in 2015, but these ideas have gained traction at the local level where these proposals are becoming more widespread. Expect to see these issues expand further at the state and local levels in 2016.
Paid Sick Leave
Currently, four states – California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oregon – mandate that private-sector employers provide paid sick leave to their workers. Oregon became the most recent state to provide paid leave to employees in July when Governor Kate Brown (D) signed legislation requiring employers with ten or more employees to provide 40 hours of paid sick leave per year to employees. The number of localities requiring paid sick leave also is on the rise in 2015, including Montgomery County, Maryland; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Tacoma, Washington.
In 2016, many more cities and states are expected to introduced paid sick leave proposals. Recently, New York (NY AB 8585), Virginia (VA HB 7) and Wisconsin (WI AB 474) introduced legislation that will carry into 2016. Proponents of paid sick leave in Michigan are gathering signatures to certify a ballot initiative in the 2016 elections.
Paid Family Leave
Paid family leave laws are also in place in three states: California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. These states use state disability insurance programs to fund their programs.
Under the California model, the program is funded by a 1% payroll tax on employees. Qualified workers collect benefits from the state's disability insurance program and can take six weeks off and receive about half of their normal salary (up to a maximum of $1,100 a week). However, only a few states have disability insurance programs (Hawaii, New York, as well as California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island), and the difficulty of setting up a paid family leave program without a pre-established disability insurance program in the state has slowed the spread of paid family leave mandates.
Nonetheless, family leave is popular and state lawmakers continue to push for the programs. In 2015, legislators in Connecticut (CT HB 6932), Massachusetts (MA HB 809), and Washington, D.C. (DC B21-0415) proposed paid family leave bills. The legislation in D.C., as introduced, would be the most generous in the country and provide almost all full and part-time employees in the District with sixteen weeks of paid leave to bond with a newborn or adopted child, recover from an illness, recuperate from a military deployment, or care for ill family members. Workers earning up to $52,000 a year would earn full pay, while those earning more would receive a base of $1,000 per week plus 50% of their income after that, for a maximum of $3,000 per week.
Along with the debate on the D.C. bill, which will carry into 2016, several states are likely to introduce paid family leave legislation. Lawmakers have already filed two paid family leave bills (FL HB 603 & SB 384) in Florida for the 2016 session, and lawmakers in Wisconsin recently introduced legislation (WI HB 516) that will carry into the new year as well.
In 2015, seven states enacted legislation in order to promote equal pay between men and women: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, New York, North Dakota, and Oregon.
The law in California (CA SB 358) requires employers to affirmatively demonstrate that employees doing “substantially similar” work receive equal pay. Currently, California requires equal pay for jobs that are exactly equal. Under the new law, employers could potentially face a growing number of lawsuits. The bill would also prohibit employers from regulating employee discussion of wage information and from retaliating against employees who have filed pay equality claims.
Thus far, Missouri has prefiled a bill (MO SB 695) for the 2016 session that would prohibit paying wages less than those paid to the opposite gender for similar work. Given the speed with which the issue progressed this year, it is highly likely that several more states will consider proposals aimed at closing the gender wage gap in 2016.
In November 2014, San Francisco enacted the “Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights,” a broad-based bill that included “fair scheduling”provisions that were quickly replicated in legislative proposals throughout the country at both the state and local level. Under many of these “fair scheduling” or “predictive scheduling” proposals, employers would be required to post employee schedules at least two weeks in advance. If any changes are made within this time frame, employers would have to pay their employees varying amounts of “predictability pay” (frequently four hours, or half a shift) to compensate them for this change.
In 2015, eleven states and four localities (Albuquerque, New Mexico; Emeryville, California; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Washington, D.C.) introduced bills that would impose scheduling mandates on employers. So far, so states or localities beyond San Francisco have successfully adopted “fair scheduling” laws, however, most of the bills introduced in the twelve state legislatures this year will remain active in 2016. As activists have continued to promote this issue, it will likely proliferate further next year.
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