Guest post by Kate Bischoff, Employment Lawyer & HR Consultant
HR compliance is hard. Employers are subject to so many different laws that even the most seasoned HR practitioners can innocently overlook legal changes. Last year was a particularly fast-paced year for employment law changes. We saw so many different laws and minor tweaks that one would hope 2017 would slow this down just a smidge. Don’t hold your breath, HR, because 2017 promises to be just as fast and maybe even more confusing.
Watch the Locals
With the federal government in conflict over nominees, travel bans, and religious policies, state legislatures, county commissions, and city councils are busy bees. Sick and parenting leave, minimum wages, and scheduling rules are all under consideration by local lawmakers. Even Linn County, Iowa with just over 210,000 residents upped its minimum wage and continues to study whether it’ll increase wages even further.
Employers need to know what their local lawmakers are doing. The laws being made on local levels always differ from the eventual state or federal laws that follow. We may be forced to doing some fancy HR yoga to comply with both. If you want a voice, get involved through industry-specific organizations or local chambers of commerce, or by contacting lawmakers directly. Trust me, when HR has a say in making the law, compliance is easier.
Ice Your Legal Whiplash
Last year was a whirlwind year for employment law at the federal level. The U.S. Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, the “blacklisting” rule, and new overtime regulations among others had employers confused and working diligently to find ways to comply. Yet, it appears that only a few of the new federal laws will actually come to fruition. The fiduciary rule is now under review. The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to repeal the “blacklisting rule.” And, the last-minute injunction imposed by a Texas federal judge remains in place on the overtime regulations. While we don’t know how the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will decide whether the salary-basis part of the new regulations is within the DOL’s discretion, it’s only natural that employers feel like they’re suffering from legal whiplash.
This feeling will likely continue. We’re almost a year away from filing a new EEO-1 pay report that the new Acting Chair of the EEOC dislikes. So, could this change? Maybe. The makeup of the ever-controversial National Labor Relations Board will change and, with it, the Board’s decisions on social media and respectful workplace policies will likely swing the other way too. Get out your icepacks. We are likely in for a bumpy ride for awhile.
Count Your Sick Leave
For the last decade, employers have known that they need to provide some sort of paid time off (PTO) for employees. This PTO has included sick leave, vacation, and even time off to attend school conferences. But, PTO has not been a legal requirement for many employers until now. Chicago, Minneapolis, Trenton, and many others have all enacted new sick-leave ordinances with other localities considering enacting such ordinances soon. Employers have to ask themselves, Got sick leave?
The challenge with the new sick-leave laws is how to calculate the PTO. For example, in St. Paul, Minnesota, employees earn one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. This calculation may be very different than the years-of-service method that determines the amount of PTO a full-time employee accrues under an employer’s policy. For HR, this means we have to be careful calculating earned PTO, and even reverse-engineer the amount of time offered to employees. Remember, employers can always pay more—even in sick leave—just never below.
Befriend an Employment Attorney
The only guarantee I can make for 2017 is that you’re going to need to know an employment law attorney. Employment attorneys are required to know the laws in their jurisdiction. The need to pay attention at city council meetings, attend hearings at state legislatures, or at the very least follow the #emplaw hashtag on Twitter to keep up are essential functions listed in our job descriptions. Meet us, let us buy you a donut or lunch, and ask us lots of questions to help keep you in compliance.