Although this year's labor- and employment-related legislative activity was down slightly from that of 2013 – in part due to congressional gridlock – by no means was 2014 insignificant. Throughout the year, an influx of new and amended laws requires employers to establish, revisit, or revise policies and practices. Although the November elections changed the political landscape in Washington as well as in a number of states, the contests were not solely between candidates for office. Voters also went to the polls to voice their position on ballot initiatives benefitting employees. On these issues, voters resoundingly approved pro-employee measures. Approval of these ballot measures suggests that employers could face even more new state and local mandates in the years ahead.    

While our attention pivots to 2015, which brings a bevy of new compliance obligations for employers, we must also examine what transpired the past 12 months to understand continued and emerging challenges employers will confront in 2015 (and possibly in future years).1

A divided Congress may have forestalled federal legislative changes, but the legislative gridlock at the federal level accelerated efforts by state and local jurisdictions to pass more labor and employment laws. As highlighted below, the types of new and amended laws, as well as the level of legislative activity, run the gamut. Although wage and hour is the standout issue, states and localities also enacted measures concerning alternative dispute resolution, background checks, benefits, contingent workers, discrimination, leaves of absence, notices, posting, privacy, recordkeeping, reductions-in-force, retaliation, taxation, unemployment, whistleblowing, workers' compensation and workplace safety. While it is no surprise that California enacted the most employment laws in 2014,2 large and small states from every corner of the country also took action impacting employers. 

State and local legislators made boosting lower-paid employees' wages a priority this year. In 2015, the minimum wage rates in at least 24 states will change; 25 if Nevada elects to change its rate.3 Moreover, Maryland has scheduled two increases: one in January and another in July 2015. Additionally, New York will continue its recent tradition of increasing minimum wage rates on New Year's Eve, with increases scheduled to take effect on December 31, 2014, and again on December 31, 2015. Employers in northern California's greater Bay Area will see four cities establish or increase their local minimum wage to an amount above the state rate, which is already higher than the federal minimum wage. 

State and local elected officials also sought to improve employee well-being by mandating paid sick leave. There was a noticeable uptick in paid sick leave legislation in 2014. California and Massachusetts created measures that will take effect in 2015, doubling the number of state-level jurisdictions with paid sick leave requirements.4 Local jurisdictions, however, continue to outpace states in enacting paid leave legislation. For example, in 2015, there will be more local paid sick leave laws in various New Jersey jurisdictions than exist at the state level nationwide. Shortly after California enacted a statewide law, voters in Oakland joined their neighbors in San Francisco by approving a paid sick leave measure.  Although Oregon has no state-level requirement, paid sick leave is required in the city of Portland, and will soon be required in the city of Eugene.5

There also is a burgeoning trend toward extending employment protections to non-employees. In 2015, California and Illinois will grant interns fair employment protections. This nearly doubled the overall number of states that do so, beyond just the District of Columbia, New York and Oregon. 

The picture of compliance challenges in 2015 is not complete without an understanding of both regulatory and legislative changes. Just as the federal legislative gridlock prompted state and local governments to pass legislation similar to that stalled in Congress, the federal gridlock also prompted the Obama Administration to make changes through rulemaking, with some of these changes expected in 2015.6 Legal obligations have become increasingly dynamic, so static employment guidelines, handbooks and trainings provide employers no refuge. Maintaining and providing up-to-date policies and practices is made more daunting by staggered effective dates for various new laws and regulations. Accordingly, employers must make diligent efforts to ensure compliance obligations are timely met at the federal, state and local levels. To assist employers, the chart below briefly summarizes select federal, state and local changes that will occur in 2015.

Laws Effective December 31, 2014

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Laws Effective January 1, 2015

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Laws Effective January 7, 2015

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Laws Effective January 15, 2015

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Laws Effective January 20, 2015

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Laws Effective January 31, 2015

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Laws Effective February 24, 2015

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Laws Effective March 1, 2015

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Laws Effective March 2, 2015

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Laws Effective April 1, 2015

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Laws Effective April 8, 2015

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Laws Effective May 1, 2015

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Laws Effective July 1, 2015

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Laws Effective August 1, 2015

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Laws Effective October 1, 2015

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Laws Effective December 31, 2015

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