Staying abreast of human resources compliance is complicated, especially in 2021. Beyond ever-changing pandemic laws, many states are enacting new HR and compliance laws regarding protections for workers and protected classes. Even if these laws are not in the state an organization operates from, employers should be aware of them for two reasons. Firstly, if any remote workers operate out of these states, employers must update the employee handbook and employee policies to complete HR legal compliance. Secondly, many of these HR compliance laws are indicative of broader trends. Employers in other states should prepare for these laws, as their own state may pass a version of them soon. MP’s HR services team shares the five new HR compliance laws that employers must know about in 2021.
5 New State HR Compliance Laws for 2021
1. Living donor laws:
Virginia and Pennsylvania are the latest states of 39 to pass laws that protect paid leave for people who donate bone marrow. In 2019, lawmakers began creating a federal law prohibiting life, disability, and long-term insurance providers from discriminating against living donors. It will also push for organ donation to be a qualifying reason workers take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Employers may want to update their sick leave and FMLA policies to include living donors. They should also prepare to support leave requests from employees who need time off to make medical donations.
2. Marijuana laws:
Connecticut and New Mexico are among the growing number of states that have decriminalized or legalized Marijuana. As of this writing, 11 states have legalized recreational use of Marijuana, while 35 states have developed medical Marijuana programs. Many states don’t explicitly require employers to make accommodations or protections for employees that use Marijuana. However, it will reduce the risk of lawsuits and discrimination complaints if employers treat Marijuana like alcohol. If employees are not high at work, or their impairment won’t cause serious harm to themselves or others, it may be a best practice not to test for it. In similar circumstances, employers shouldn’t use a positive drug test result when hiring, firing, disciplining, etc. Additionally, in 2021’s candidate-dominated job market, winning talent is critical. Maintaining employee policies that prohibit Marijuana use or test for it may deter top talent, especially in states where use is decriminalized or legal. Note that as of this writing, Marijuana remains illegal at the Federal level. Many positions with additional Federal oversight must still follow strict Marijuana usage rules.
3. Pregnancy and childbirth protection laws:
Arizona, Kentucky, Georgia, and Indiana have all recently passed laws that protect pregnant employees or those on leave for childbirth. Laws already exist at the federal level to protect employees in these scenarios, so state laws only strengthen these protections. This is one trend that MP’s HR services team suggests considering when updating the employee handbook. Employers should also train managers and include HR in discussions whenever making decisions about pregnant or nursing employees. Generally, employers create more legal risk when deciding what pregnant employees can do. Per federal regulations, for a year after the birth of a child, employers must provide reasonable break times and a locked room (that is not a bathroom) for employees to express breast milk if they request it.
4. Paid Family Leave Laws (PFML):
New Hampshire just passed a Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML) law, joining the ten other states with a version of paid family leave laws. These laws generally ensure that families have time off to care for somebody sick or a new baby or adopted child. Often, this is paid time off. Payment comes from taxes collected by the state from both employers and employees. Notably, these laws also protect employees from retaliation or discrimination for taking leave. Employees who take leave also have their jobs are also protected. While New Hampshire’s plan is uniquely voluntary, many other states have programs that require all employers to participate.
5. New protected classes:
Four states added new protected classes this year:
- Colorado: Gender identity expression
- Arizona: pregnancy/childbirth
- Virginia: military or military spouse
- New Mexico: expansion of race to include hair, hair length, hairstyles, hair texture
These classes cannot be the basis of harassment or discrimination from an employer. As a trend, HR providers note states are adding more protected classes to bolster the protections already offered by federal law. Gender identity and sexual orientation have been two of the most frequently added state-protected classes within the last five years. Employers in all states should prepare by training their managers (MP’s training solutions for remote and in-office employees can assist) in avoiding discrimination generally, but specifically:
- Gender identity
- Sexual identity
- Those who’ve taken Family Medical Leave (FMLA) or Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML)
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