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An employee handbook on a deskIn 2016, a number of changes to New York State and Federal labor law will take effect.  These changes should prompt employers to start thinking about reviewing or amending their employment policies.  Employers are facing challenges on both the State and Federal level to ensure they are in compliance with the law.  To assist in this process, Lacy Katzen believes that it is important to focus on three key areas:

1.  Be ready for the DOL Changes to the Overtime Exemption Rules

During the summer of 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published a notice of proposed rulemaking that updated the overtime exemption regulations in the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The final rule is expected to be released later in 2016.  To be ahead of the curve, employers should make plans to adjust the proposed increase in the minimum salary levels for both the “white collar” exemptions and the highly compensated employees.  Employers may also want to consider converting exempt employees to nonexempt status.

The notice of proposed rulemaking suggested that the DOL may require that fifty (50) percent of an employee’s time must be spent performing exempt duties to qualify for exempt status.  This percentage may change.  To prepare for this possible change, employers should review policies and develop programs to examine the job duties of exempt employees in order to ascertain what percentage of time is spent on exempt duties.

The fact that more and more FLSA claims are being filed should be a growing cause for concern.  For starters, the penalties for failing to comply with FLSA regulations are costly.  Attorneys predict that FLSA class action filings will reach another record high in 2016, continuing an upward trend that has seen them rise more than 450 percent since 2000.   A new report from Seyfarth Shaw LLP (an international law firm headquartered in Chicago, Illinois and noted for its labor and employment law practice) found that in 2015, a record 8,954 wage-and-hour cases were filed in federal courts, up by nearly 1,000 cases from the previous year.  The report also noted that plaintiffs have achieved $2.5 billion in settlements, and were overall more successful in key early stages of litigation.

2.  Be ready to adjust your Company’s compliance strategy to make sure it conforms with changes to the PPACA

In 2016, under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, all employers with fifty (50) or more employees must offer health insurance that is affordable and provides minimum value to 95% of its workforce and dependents.  The failure to do this can trigger potentially staggering financial penalties.

3.  Be Aware of the Requirements of the New York Pregnancy Accommodation Law

The Protect Women from Pregnancy Discrimination bill, effective January 19, 2016, amends the New York State Human Rights Law to define a “pregnancy-related condition” as a disability.  It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for “pregnancy-related medical conditions”, unless the accommodation places an undue burden on the employer.

Under the new law, it is unlawful for an employer to refuse to provide reasonable accommodations to the known “pregnancy-related conditions” of an employee.  Bathroom breaks, breaks for water intake, periodic rest for those who stand for long periods of time, and assistance with manual labor are all examples of reasonable accommodations.

How to be proactive in the face of the new law:

  1. Do not assume that compliance with federal law is sufficient because the federal law arguably imposes less stringent requirements on employers than New York state law.
  2. Update your human resource policies to make sure that they provide for pregnancy accommodation.
  3. Develop training programs for or have procedures in place to make sure that supervisors and managers are trained on pregnancy accommodation requirements and anti-retaliation policies.

Does your business need to update its employment and human resources policies?  If your business is over fifty (50) employees, does it provide affordable health insurance?  Does your business have training programs in place for disability and pregnancy accommodations?  Are there policies in place that evaluate employee work to determine whether they meet the FLSA exemptions?  Contact any of the attorneys in our Business and Corporate Department or Litigation Department to discuss these issues.

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