Homeless” now protected from employment and other discrimination

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee recently signed into law legislation entitled the “Homeless Bill of Rights.” Specifically, the new law protects individuals solely because of their homeless status in a variety of ways. The most significant protection, from an employer’s perspective, is that the statute effectively creates a new protected category for purposes of employment discrimination. The statute provides for a right to be free from discrimination in applying for or maintaining employment due to the lack of a permanent mailing address or use of a shelter or agency as a mailing address. The new law provides for a civil remedy, which includes claims for injunctive relief, actual damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees to a prevailing plaintiff. Given the unfortunate continued prevalence of homelessness, employers doing business in Rhode Island should be aware of the law and take proactive steps to ensure compliance. Such steps may include amending equal employment opportunity policies, employment application statements, and, most significantly, training human resources personnel and hiring/staffing managers regarding the new law and its impact.

Rhode Island increases minimum wage

Governor Chafee also signed a new law increasing the current minimum wage in Rhode Island. The new minimum wage of $7.75 per hour goes into effect on January 1, 2013 and increases the minimum wage by $.35 per hour from the existing minimum wage of $7.40, which has been in place since 2007.