New Year, New Laws: States Make Employment Law Changes

Employment Law

States across the country enacted new legislation that impacts employers in the coming year. Below are some of the new laws that employers need to be aware of.

  • Salary history inquiries. New York and New Jersey joined the growing number of states prohibiting employers from inquiring about a job applicant’s salary, benefits and other compensation history.

    In New York, the prohibition (which took effect on January 6) applies to inquiring about or relying on the salary history of an applicant in determining salary, benefits or other compensation. The law doesn’t apply to objective measurements of productivity, such as revenue or sales reports, and employers may discuss with applicants their expectations for salary and other compensation.

    Employers may not refuse to interview or hire an individual if they refuse to share their salary history information; the law also features an anti-retaliation provision.

    The New Jersey law, which took effect on January 1, similarly bans employers from screening a job applicant based on his or her salary history (including wages, salaries or benefits).

    If an applicant voluntarily, without employer prompting or coercion, provides the employer with a salary history, the employer may consider the information when determining salary, benefits and other compensation and may verify the applicant’s salary history.

  • Hairstyle discrimination. New Jersey also banned race discrimination based on hairstyle, a change that took place in mid-December. The Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act stated that prohibited race discrimination includes discrimination based on “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type and protective hairstyles.” Examples of such hairstyles are noted in the bill—which took immediate effect upon Governor Phil Murphy’s signature—including “braids, locks and twists.”

    The state joins California and New York in explicitly prohibiting race discrimination predicated on hairstyles.

  • Reproductive health decisions. Employers in New York are now prohibited from discriminating or retaliating against an employee on the basis of reproductive health decision making by the employee or the employee’s dependent.

    In addition, employers may not require employees to sign a waiver or document that purports to deny a worker the right to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions; nor can employers access an employee’s personal information regarding reproductive health decision making without prior, informed, affirmative written consent by the employee.

    Senate Bill 660 does not define the term “reproductive health decision making” but states that it applies (without limitation) to “the decision to use or access any particular drug, device or medical service.”

    The law includes a private right of action and financial penalties for violations.

  • Pregnancy and lactation accommodations. In Oregon, lawmakers passed House Bill 2341, which requires that companies with at least six employees provide reasonable accommodations for those with workplace limitations or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.

    The new law—which took effect on January 1—includes possible accommodations such as the acquisition or modification of equipment or devices; more frequent or longer break periods or periodic rest; assistance with manual labor; or modification of work schedules or job assignments.

    California expanded its requirements for lactation accommodations. As of January 1, employers must now provide complete privacy for lactation, including a place to sit, a surface for a pump, and access to electricity as well as a refrigerator and a sink. An employer with fewer than 50 employees may establish an exemption from these requirements if it can show that they would impose an undue hardship when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature or structure of the employer’s business.

    The new law deems denial of reasonable break time for lactation or the provision of inadequate space to express milk a failure to provide a rest period in accordance with state law.

  • Paid medical and family leave. Washington became the fifth state with paid family and medical leave on January 1, following in the footsteps of California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.

    All public and private employers with at least one person in “employment” in the state must now provide up to 18 weeks of paid family and medical leave per year, with “family member” defined to include children, grandchildren, grandparents, parents, siblings or spouse of the employee.

    Workers must have worked at least 820 hours in the first four of the five most recently completed quarters in order to be eligible for paid leave, and hours worked at more than one employer can be combined for eligibility.

    Other jurisdictions will soon join the list of those with paid leave: Washington, D.C.’s law is set to take effect in July 2020, employees in Massachusetts gain paid medical and family leave in January 2021, and benefits begin in Connecticut in January 2022 and in Oregon in January 2023.

  • Marijuana testing. On January 1, Nevada became the first state to ban employers from refusing to hire candidates who test positive for marijuana in drug screening tests.

    The law features exceptions for certain positions such as emergency medical technicians and firefighters, employees who operate a motor vehicle or who by federal or state law must submit to screening tests, and those workers an employer determines could adversely affect the safety of others.

Why it matters: New state laws took effect from coast to coast on a wide variety of issues, so employers would be well-served to check whether any new statutes apply to them and make sure they are in compliance with the new legal requirements.



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