Of all the things businesses stay on the look-out for, changes in Human Resources laws often aren’t included. Laws change every year, and staying compliant can be a full-time job. In many companies, it is one.
Compliance with HR laws both old and new might cost some money, but it is never as costly as a lawsuit or fine. Five new laws in particular are causing employers some problems.
1. Arizona’s New Medical Marijuana Act
Effective as of January 1, 2011, the Medical Marijuana Act has been causing no end of problems for employers, especially those who failed to incorporate it into their existing drug-free workplace policies.
The new law prevents employers from discriminating in their hiring and firing decisions against employees who are registered medical marijuana users unless they use medical marijuana at work or are impaired at work, but the law is vague when it comes to enforcement. The immediate question that many employers ask is, “How can I show that an employee was impaired?”
That’s a fair question.
Another bill, which became effective a few months later, gave employers some leeway in determining impairment or workplace usage, and relies on a “good faith” belief on the part of the employer. A good faith belief may sound like it complicates matters less, but nothing about the issue is simple; the U.S. Attorney has threatened to enforce federal law regardless of state laws, such as Arizona’s, to the contrary. In fact, Governor Jan Brewer filed a federal lawsuit seeking to answer the question of whether or not the new law was in conflict with those federal laws, but the lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice.
Compliance in this matter is understandably complicated.
2. FedEx’s FLSA Failure
The Fair Labor Standards Act outlines a specific statutes of limitation of two years for non-willful violations and three years for willful violations. FedEx attempted to circumvent these statutes of limitation with a provision in their employment contracts, which limited legal actions against FedEx to no more than six months from the date of the event.
A lawsuit arose, reaching the Sixth Circuit Court, which ruled that contract provisions cannot shorten FLSA statute of limitations.
If your employment contracts include a similar provision, you are open to potential lawsuits long after you might believe yourself to be safe.
3. Social Media Privacy Laws
New Jersey became the 9th state with laws prohibiting employers from requiring applicants and employees to disclose their user-names and passwords to personal social media accounts. New Jersey’s version of the law prescribes a $1,000 fine for the first violation, a $2,500 for repeat violations, and it prohibits retaliation for refusal to provide passwords, reported violations of the law, or participation in investigations into violations of the law.
Is your business in a state with a similar law? If it is, do you know the penalties? Have you asked for access to a social media profile from an employee or applicant?
This is one strong example of how much cheaper compliance is versus a lawsuit or fine. It costs nothing and can prevent thousands of dollars worth of fines.
(Arkansas, California, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington are the aforementioned states with social media privacy laws)
4. “Ban the Box” Laws
One of the latest trends in Human Resource law is so-called, “Ban-the-Box” laws. Going into effect on January 1, 2014 in Minnesota and Rhode Island, these laws prohibit private employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal background until after they have been selected for an interview or have been given a conditional offer of employment.
With laws going into effect in Rhode Island and Minnesota, and similar laws already in effect in Seattle and Indiana, other states are sure to follow suit. Is your hiring process flexible enough to change if your state adopts a similar law?
5. Sexual Orientation Discrimination
The city of Phoenix has recently voted to amend its human relations ordinance to ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, and transgender persons, making it the third of Arizona’s major cities to include such a provision. Flagstaff approved its provision just six days earlier, while Tucson has had a provision in effect since 1999.
The ordinance applies to all employers within the city limits of Phoenix, even those with just a single worker.
Employers found in violation are subject to a maximum $2,500 fine.
Interestingly, the ordinance is enforceable – in this case, by the city’s Equal Opportunity Department – despite there being no matching protection in state or federal law, making it all the more important to stay on top of things, as a change in city ordinance is more likely to go unnoticed than a change in state or federal law.