Provided by: Judge Ruth B. Kraft
Happy New Year!! Since employment laws are constantly changing without notice to employers, to help you prepare for 2014, I have prepared five important questions which you should ask yourselves to determine whether you are in compliance with key changes in 2014.
DO YOU NEED TO GIVE YOUR EMPLOYEES RAISES? Minimum wage laws are changing! You should familiarize yourself with the applicable increase in your jurisdiction; don’t forget to check municipal as well as state laws. New York City and San Francisco come to mind immediately but a multitude of legislative bodies have jumped on the minimum wage bandwagon. In California, the increase in minimum wage for hourly workers will have consequences for exempt, or salaried, employees as well. Effective July 1, 2014 there, to qualify for a “white collar” exemption, an employee’s annual salary must be at least $37,440 and this will continue to rise with the minimum wage until 2016.
DO YOU HAVE A WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION POLICY? Employers may not enforce any rule or policy preventing an employee from disclosing information to a governmental or law enforcement agency and may not retaliate against any employee who has done so. Every employer should have explicit, written protections against retaliation and discrimination in addition to its employee handbook. Various courts have disregarded language in handbooks alone as insufficient. A short, inexpensive written policy with documentation of training is your best insurance policy against costly litigation.
HOW ARE YOU TREATING MILITARY SERVICE MEMBERS AND VETERANS? Federal law prohibits discrimination against active service forces and veterans. Courts are enforcing these laws with increasing stringency. Also, know that, from a public relations standpoint, failure to comply will be extremely costly in terms of your reputation.
HOW ARE YOU TREATING SUSPECTED UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS?
Every employer must be in compliance with federal law. Your prospective and current employees must complete form I-9 to reflect immigration status and provide the requisite supporting documentation for your review. Additionally, you may not treat suspected undocumented workers differently from citizens or legal aliens. Although an undocumented worker does not have standing to sue in courts of record, he has the right to complain to a federal,state or municipal agency which can act on his behalf at the same (or worse) detriment to you.
ARE YOU PROVIDING ADEQUATE ACCOMMODATIONS OR TIME OFF TO VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, SEXUAL ASSAULT, STALKING AND OTHER CRIME VICTIMS? Understand that it is in the public interest to extend protection to individuals under these circumstances. If you discharge, discriminate or retaliate against employees as the result of absences resulting from crimes or abuse, it will be at your own risk. Although many states do not have explicit legislation in this regard, the courts have made it clear that they will stand with the employee.
HOW DID YOU SCORE? The former law professor in me can’t refrain from inquiring? Each of these questions raises nuanced issues. Start the year right. In virtually every employment law scenario, planning is far less costly than defense.
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