Navigating Company Policies across Multiple States Effectively

February 2020 HR Bulletin

Each year, new state legislation is passed or changed, emphasizing the level of importance for companies to become and remain compliant in a highly regulated workplace environment. With these ever-changing and increasing state employment and labor law updates, it is becoming more and more of a challenge for employers of multi-state companies, to stay on top of company policies.

Although it’s important to stay current with federal laws for those essential minimum requirements, each state and municipality is well within its authority to create more robust or stronger laws. Business owners need to be aware, up-to-date and stay compliant with federal, state and city laws, as well as understanding that the risk of failing to do so could have damaging and costly consequences.

Listed below are some of the more common laws that vary by state or city. Keep in mind that if you do have employees in multiple states, some of these laws apply regardless of the number of employees working in a particular state. It is critical to keep your employee handbook and all relevant company policies up-to-date with these regulations.

Paid Sick Leave

A growing number of paid sick time laws have been passed in cities and states around the country with continuing momentum on an issue that has seen increasing support. Each state law has different rules about who is covered, the reasons leave can be used, the rate at which employees accrue paid leave, and the waiting periods before paid sick leave can be used. To make matters more complicated, many local jurisdictions have their own paid-sick-leave laws that offer more generous benefits than the state law or are in locations without a statewide law. In addition, Executive Order 13706 requires federal contractors and subcontractors to provide paid sick leave, regardless of where they are based.

Paid sick leave laws often mandate other guidelines in terms of acceptable reasons for leave and record-keeping duties for employers. A required minimum of 40 hours a year has become a common practice. These laws need to be reviewed against your company’s current sick or PTO policies to assure they are compliant with your state or city laws. Here’s a breakdown of paid sick leave laws by state:

  • States with state paid sick leave laws – State wide: AZ, CA, CT, MA, MI, NJ, OR, RI, VT, and District of Columbia
  • States with both state and local paid sick laws – State wide: CA, MD and WABerkeley, CA; Emeryville, CA; Long Beach, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Oakland, CA; San Diego, CA; San Francisco, CA; Santa Monica, CA;Montgomery County, IL; Seattle, WA; Tacoma, WA
  • States with only local city or county paid sick laws – Philadelphia, PA, Pittsburgh, PA (effective 3/15/2020);Cook County, IL; Chicago, IL; Duluth, MN; Minneapolis, MN; St. Paul, MN; West Chester County, NY; New York City, NY; Dallas, TX

Family Leaves

All private employers with 50 or more employees (within a 75 mile radius) and all public agencies are required to comply with the Federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Some states are stepping up to fill these gaps by providing job-protected leave to many employees left out of the FMLA. Some states have extended leave to employees of small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Other states have reduced the duration and hours worked requirements in their state leave laws, while still others have done away with these requirements completely. Examples of state-specific family leaves: New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA), California Family Rights Act (CFRA), Vermont Parental and Family Leave Act (PFLA), Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA) and more.

Crime Victims, Domestic and Sexual Violence Leaves

Several states have passed laws that provide crime victims, including domestic violence and victims of sexual assault and stalking, time off from work to address the violence in their lives and/or protections from employment discrimination related to the violence. The details of each state’s leave laws and protections can vary significantly.

Meal Breaks and Rest Periods

Under federal law, meal breaks and rest periods are not required except for youth; however, there are regulations on what is considered compensable and non-compensable time. When employers offer short breaks (5 – 20 minutes), this is considered compensable work hours. On the other hand, meal periods (which, if provided, must be at least 30 minutes in duration), serve a different purpose and are not considered work time and are not compensable unless work is performed during the meal period. At the state level, there are regulations when it comes to length of break or meal period and when the break should be taken. For example, in some states there is a paid 10-minute break required for every 4 hours worked or a 30-minute meal period for every 5 consecutive hours of work. Please note that these laws can also vary by other factors such as occupation type, collective bargaining agreements, population, etc. Click here for State Meal Period Laws and Paid Rest Period Requirements.

Legalized Marijuana Use

This is becoming an increasing hot topic for employers, and we will continue to see more states continue to legalize marijuana. Although marijuana use remains illegal at the federal level, many states have legalized it for medical use (33 states), and several states have legalized it for recreational use (11 states). In many of the states that have legalized recreational marijuana, the laws allow employers to continue to maintain zero-tolerance drug policies based on federal law. However, several states are silent as to whether employers may limit or regulate an employee’s use of marijuana outside the workplace. This is a complex topic, one that is changing and will require employers to review and update drug and alcohol policies.

Minimum Wage

The federal minimum wage for non-exempt employees is $7.25 per hour as contained in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). However, many states have their own minimum wage laws, and some wages may vary by county or city. Several states have an approved minimum rate increase by year, so make sure you stay on top of annual increases. Click here for current State Minimum Wage Laws.  

Other laws that can vary by state:

  • Final Paycheck Laws – Guides when employers must pay the final paycheck upon termination. Laws vary by voluntary or involuntarily terminations by state.
  • Wage Deduction Laws – What can and cannot be deducted from an employee’s paycheck.
  • Drug and Alcohol Policies – This can vary, especially in regards to states with marijuana laws.
  • Ban the Box – Removal from job applications asking if candidates have a criminal record.
  • Salary History Bans – Prohibits employers from asking applicants about their current or past salaries or benefits.
  • New Hire Registry Reporting – Reporting new hires in a state database.
  • School/Parental Leave – Some states provide time off for parents to attend school-related events and activities for their children.
  • Voting Leaves – Time off and protections for employees to leave work to vote.
  • Jury Duty – Some states require paid or unpaid time off to serve on a jury.
  • Child Labor Laws – Rules can vary by age and type of occupation.
  • Emergency Responders – Requirements for leave for volunteer emergency responders.
  • E-Verify – Required Verification of Employment Eligibility.

The list above is not all inclusive but rather a sample. Since many laws can affect employee rights and the workplace environment, it is critical to stay current to maintain a productive work atmosphere. It is highly recommended that companies have an employee handbook that is reviewed and updated every year to stay in compliance with changing employment laws. In addition, current workplace posters must be displayed or posted in conspicuous places where they are easily visible to all employees. We hope you enjoyed the February 2020 Bulletin. Find more information in the next update below.

By Kay Gillespie, HR Business Partner, HR Service, Inc.

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