Why it matters

While employers wait to see the impact of Donald Trump's forthcoming presidency, voters made their feelings clear on two employment-related issues: minimum wage and marijuana. Four states that considered a rate hike for minimum wage workers approved the increase, with Arizona, Colorado, and Maine all set for a jump up to $12 per hour by 2020 and Washington reaching even higher to $13.50. Each of the measures passed by a comfortable margin and two of the states—Arizona and Washington—included paid sick leave in their new laws. As for marijuana use, voters in eight states approved the legal use of the drug, with California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada permitting the recreational use of marijuana by adults and Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota signing on to medical marijuana. Employers in the states remain free to enforce drug- and alcohol-free workplace policies, however, as none of the measures required accommodations for use (medical or otherwise) in the workplace.

Detailed discussion

As the impact of the 2016 election continues to reverberate, one thing is certain: voters nationwide overwhelmingly approved of increases to the minimum wage and the legal use of marijuana.

Of the five states that considered a bump in hourly payments for minimum wage workers, four passed the measures by comfortable margins, with two of the states also adopting paid sick leave. The only state to reject an increase in hourly payments was South Dakota, where the change was limited to workers under the age of 18.

In Arizona, Proposition 206 passed by almost 60 percent to raise the minimum wage from the current rate of $8.05 per hour to $12 in 2020. The increase will occur in stages, moving to $10 in 2017, $10.50 in 2018, and $11 in 2019 before hitting $12 on January 1, 2020. Beginning January 1, 2021, the minimum wage in the state will be based on increases in the cost of living.

The ballot measure also included a provision establishing paid sick leave in Arizona, with workers eligible to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. Those employees who work for an employer with 15 or more employees can accrue or use up to 40 hours per year, while those who are employed by an entity with fewer than 15 workers are limited to accrual or use of 24 hours of paid sick leave per year.

Paid sick leave will take effect in Arizona on July 1, 2017.

Colorado voters approved Amendment 70 and will be adjusting the state's hourly wage from $8.31 to $9.30, $10.20, $11.10, and $12 on the first day of the year beginning January 1, 2017 and ending January 1, 2020. After 2020 the minimum wage will be based on the Consumer Price Index for the state. Similarly, Citizen Initiative Question 4 in Maine will increase the current rate of $7.50 per hour to $12 as of January 1, 2020, with steps of $9, $10, and $11 along the way, followed by cost of living increases each year after that.

In Washington, Initiative 1433 will raise the current rate of $9.47 to $11 beginning January 1, 2017, followed by increases each year to $11.50, $12, and finally $13.50 on January 1, 2020. Each September after that the state's Department of Labor and Industries will calculate the minimum wage for the following year based on inflation. Tips, gratuities, and service charges are not included in the calculation of an employee's hourly wage, pursuant to the new law, instead considered additional wages.

Initiative 1433 also provides paid sick leave for employees in the state. Beginning January 1, 2018, workers will accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked, with no cap on the number of hours that can be accrued in one year. Employees can use the leave for their own illness, injury, or health condition, as well as to care for a family member or when the place of business or a child's school is closed for a health-related reason.

Paid sick leave can be used starting on the 90th calendar day of employment, but employers are not required to pay employees for any accrued and unused paid sick leave upon the separation of employment.

On the marijuana front, eight states legalized some form of use of the drug—still illegal under federal law—whether medical or recreational. Californians are now able to possess and grow marijuana with the passage of Proposition 64, with state-licensed businesses set to sell recreational amounts of the drug. In Nevada, Question 2 was approved by voters to permit those aged 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis or 1/8 of an ounce of cannabis concentrate. Smoking or consuming marijuana in public remains a crime in the state, however.

Massachusetts voters agreed with a ballot measure legalizing the growth, use, and possession of marijuana for those aged 21 and older. Individuals may possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana at home and 1 ounce in public pursuant to Question 4. The state's northern neighbor, Maine, also signed off on recreational use of the drug with Question 1, under which individuals may possess, transport, and use up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow, cultivate, process, or transport up to six marijuana plants.

Medical marijuana use was also approved by voters in Arkansas (where the new law has already taken effect), Florida (set to take effect January 3, 2017), Montana (where medical marijuana was legal but the new measure lifted restrictions on dispensaries), and North Dakota (a measure approved by almost 64 percent of voters).

Just one state voted down a marijuana-related ballot measure. For the second time, Arizona disapproved of a law that would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults (allowing 1 ounce of marijuana and the growth of up to six marijuana plants) by a close vote, with 52 percent of voters against the measure and 48 percent in favor.

Despite the continued expansion of legalized marijuana, little should change for employers. Several of the new laws—including in California, Massachusetts, and Nevada—expressly provide that employers may continue to enforce drug- and alcohol-free workplace policies.

To read Proposition 206, click here.

To read Proposed Initiative 101, click here.

To read Citizen Initiative Question 4, click here.

To read Initiative 1433, click here.