As 2015 comes to a close, it is important for employers to review any changes in the law as of the new year. Many statutes are passed and signed throughout the year that are scheduled to take effect around the first day of the next calendar year. For all employers in the United States, the number of employees required in order for the Affordable Healthcare Act to apply drops from 100 to 50 employees as of January 1. This means employers with 50 to 99 full-time employees will be required for the first time to offer qualified healthcare plans in compliance with the ACA beginning in 2016.
New York State
The minimum wage of New York State will increase as of December 31, 2015. The minimum wage for general employees will increase to $9 per hour. However, for fast food workers, the minimum wage will become slightly higher at $9.75. This is the first of a series of annual increases intended to eventually raise the fast food wage to $15 per hour. For tipped employees (including all service workers and food service workers), employers will be required to pay a base service rate of $7.50 per hour, and their total wage with tips must add up to at least $9 per hour.
Beginning January 19, 2016, several bills of the Women’s Equality Act will go into effect. Employers will have a more limited justification for paying an employee a different wage than another employee of a different gender. The difference will need to be for a bona fide reason, such as a difference in the employees’ education, training, or experience. New York explicitly outlaws policies that forbid employees to discuss wages with each other, except for human resource managers or others with access to wage information. No employer may discriminate on the basis of a candidate’s familial status, and discrimination laws regarding sex will apply to all New York employers, regardless of their size. Discrimination cases related to sex may result in the prevailing party receiving attorney’s fees.
Also included in the Women’s Equality Act is a requirement for employers to provide accommodations for pregnant employees. If an employee is experiencing a medical condition that is related to pregnancy or a recent childbirth, and she is still capable of performing her job duties in a reasonable manner, the employer will be required to provide a reasonable accommodation to help her do so. This requirement would not apply if the accommodation would place an undue burden on the employer.
New York City
Although several laws have gone into effect in NYC ahead of the new year, some other changes will occur in 2016. As of September 3, 2015, it is unlawful for most NYC employers to use or inspect an applicant’s credit history. Employers with four or more employees must also withhold from inspecting or requesting an applicant’s criminal record until a conditional offer has already been extended.
New York City’s Mayor De Blasio has required the City Human Rights Commission to use “testers” to send mock applications to employers as of October 1, 2015. These applications are used to ensure that employers are not discriminating against any protected class when making hiring decisions. Two very similar applications are sent, but one application will represent an applicant who belongs to a protected class. Employers who unlawfully discriminate and offer a job or interview to only the unprotected applicant can face severe civil penalties.
Many NYC employers with 20 or more employees will need to begin implementing commuter benefit plans on January 1, 2016. These fringe benefits come out of employee pre-tax earnings and must be used for transportation to and from work. Employees must be offered a sum of at least $130 per month. As of December 31, 2015, fast food employers in NYC will experience a new minimum wage higher than that of the State. The minimum wage for fast food workers will be $10.50 per hour, and will increase each year afterwards until it reaches $15 per hour.
The minimum wage in New Jersey is to remain unchanged for 2016. However, Jersey City, which requires employers to provide sick leave, has amended its ordinance to expand these benefits. Employers no longer have to have 10 or more employees to be subject to paid sick leave requirements. Employers with fewer than 10 employees will now need to provide 24 hours of paid sick time, as well as 16 hours of unpaid sick time each year to each employee. The amendment has increased the penalty for noncompliance from $1,250 to $2,000.