The growing patchwork of paid sick leave laws

Continuing a recent trend, a dozen states and cities throughout the US passed paid sick leave laws in 2014.  In total, almost twenty jurisdictions now require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees, including California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., and numerous municipalities in other states.

The sick leave statutes typically provide paid sick days to employees to care for themselves or a close family member.  Sick time generally accrues at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, and accruals may be capped at 40 to 72 hours per year, depending on employer size.  Employees are entitled to carry over unused sick time from year to year within limits that vary by jurisdiction.

Employers with employees working in jurisdictions covered by the paid sick leave statutes should review their paid time off policies to ensure the policies meet the applicable requirements.

Immigration developments – broader protections for whistleblowers and increased enforcement

Recent legislation expands a 2013 landmark bill that protects immigrant workers against retaliation based on unfair immigration-related practices.  Such practices include threatening to file or filing a false police report or threatening to contact or contacting immigration authorities in retaliation for employees engaging in protected activity, such as filing a workplace complaint.  The amended law now prohibits the filing of a false report or complaint with any state or federal agency, not just the police or immigration authorities.  It also broadens the available remedies and clarifies the penalty and employee information provisions of the law.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has increased its scrutiny of employers’ compliance with Form I-9, the process used to verify employees’ authorisation to work in the US.  ICE imposes civil and criminal penalties on employers that knowingly hire undocumented workers, and shares the information it obtains from workplace audits with other government agencies.

Employers’ exposure to increased ICE enforcement has been compounded by President Obama’s recent executive orders on "Expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" and "Deferred Action for Parental Accountability," both of which make millions of immigrants eligible to work in the U.S.  Although these orders are not yet in effect, employers must take steps now to shield themselves from liability for Form I-9 non-compliance.

Nationwide "ban the box" legislation

Fourteen jurisdictions – including Washington, D.C., Illinois, and New Jersey in 2014 – and over 80 cities and counties have enacted "ban the box" legislation, restricting employers’ ability to inquire into an applicant’s criminal history.  These statutes generally prohibit inquiries through forms and interviews, as well as indirect inquiry through criminal history checks, but the laws vary significantly by jurisdiction.  Many jurisdictions now prohibit criminal background checks before the employer extends the applicant a conditional offer of employment.

Affirmative action for individuals with disabilities and protected veterans

The US Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) recently issued regulations expanding affirmative action for individuals with disabilities and protected veterans.  The regulations became effective in March 2014 and will apply to employers with at least 50 employees and a US government contract or subcontract of US$100,000 or more.