Employment law changes rapidly. Regulations that have been long discussed and litigated are often rolled out with the dawn of a new year, and 2017 is no different. Most of the new laws impacting employers and employees are federally mandated, but the state of New Jersey is also making a notable change with the increase in the state’s minimum wage from $8.38 to $8.44 per hour. Other shifts in New Jersey state law are happening at the municipal level, with both Plainfield and Morristown joining eleven other towns requiring employers to offer their workers paid sick leave.
On a federal level, most of the rules took effect on the first day of the year, and many address the handling of benefit plans. Among the year’s new rules are
- A rule requiring employers to provide notice about what medical information their Wellness Programs are able to obtain and how it will be used, who will receive the information, and how it can be disclosed. This rule also limits the incentives that can be used to induce employee participation in these programs.
- A rule that defines who can provide investment advice regarding employers’ retirement plans in order to prevent conflicts of interest.
- A rule updating industry safety standards regarding walking/working surfaces. These revisions are designed to prevent workplace injuries and fatalities.
- A rule updating the permissible exposure levels to respirable crystalline silica. There are two new standards – one for general and maritime employment, and another for the construction industry. These will take effect in June 2018 and June 2017 respectively.
- A rule requiring certain employers to submit injury and illness data electronically.
Regarding issues of employment discrimination, it is expected that in 2017 the EEOC will continue to investigate failure-to-hire-claims that allege discrimination based on race, national origin, gender and age, as well as criminal background checks.
It is also expected that the agency will be keeping a close eye on alternative work arrangements. Many of the new job opportunities are a result of the “gig economy.” A gig economy is where there are more short-term and freelance jobs than permanent long term jobs. The EEOC wants to ensure that employees and contractors are being treated fairly.
The EEOC will also monitor the technology industry as it continues to face scrutiny for its failures in providing opportunities to older workers. Other areas of focus for the EEOC in 2017 will include sexual harassment, disability discrimination, and pay equity.