Last week, The New York City Council passed a suite of 11 separate bills intended to address the scourge of workplace sexual harassment by providing additional protections for victims and imposing new obligations on organizations to prevent harassment, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The measures include a mandate requiring employers with 15 or more workers to conduct sexual harassment prevention training for all employees at least once a year. Employers in the city will also be required to display an anti-sexual-harassment poster designed by the local government, while prospective contractors will have to detail their anti-harassment policies in their bids for city contracts. City agencies will be obligated to report harassment incidents to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, in order to collect more information on the prevalence of sexual harassment, which the city does not currently know enough about.
Another bill expands sexual harassment protections under the New York City Human Rights Law to employees of organizations with four or fewer employees, meaning all employees will be covered by them. Yet another bill increases the statute of limitations for filing harassment claims from one year to three. (Jackson Lewis attorneys offer a more complete description of the bills at the law firm’s website.)
Airlines For America, a coalition of major airlines including American, United, Southwest, Alaska, and JetBlue, has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, seeking to either overturn or exempt their industry from the Bay State’s paid sick leave law. The airlines say the law violates the US Constitution by seeing to regulate interstate commerce, a right granted only to the federal government, and has hurt their business specifically by leading to more employee absences, the Boston Globe’s Katie Johnston reports:
Airlines already provide generous paid sick leave, according to the complaint, and closely monitor attendance to maintain safety and appropriate staffing levels and to keep flights running on time. But the Massachusetts law prohibits employers from disciplining workers for sick-leave absences and requires at least a three-day absence before medical documentation is required, which the industry group said hurts airlines’ ability to investigate abuse of sick leave.
The Massachusetts law, which went into effect in 2015, requires that companies with 11 or more employees provide an hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked, culminating in up to 40 hours of paid sick time a year. But flight and ground crews often accrue sick leave in ways that can’t be easily converted into hours worked, according to the trade group.
New York City Councilman Rafael Espinal has introduced a bill that would “make it unlawful for private employers in the city of New York to require employees to check and respond to email and other electronic communications during non-work hours.” The proposed law would apply to private organizations with more than ten employees and would fine violators $250 for each instance of noncompliance. The rationale behind the bill is to combat the high incidence of overwork among New York City residents, the New York Times’ Jonathan Wolfe notes:
The average New Yorker already works 49 hours and 8 minutes a week, longer than their counterparts in the next 29 largest cities in the U.S., according to a 2015 report by the city comptroller. And that’s not including hours spent emailing at home. A 2017 study found that, on average, workers spend an extra eight hours a week sending email after work. Research has also shown that people who responded to work communications after 9 p.m. had a worse quality of sleep and were less engaged the next day.
“When you don’t have recovery and time off, it leads to more stress and ultimately burnout and exhaustion,” said Larissa K. Barber, a professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University who conducts research on work-life balance and coined a term for the urge to respond: “telepressure.”
The law is modeled after the “right to disconnect” law that came into effect in France last year, which mandates that organizations of more than 50 people agree with their employees on hours when they are not required to perform online work tasks like checking email. Modern telecommunications indeed pose a challenge in terms of work-life balance, as employees who work at all hours run a greater risk of burnout and stress.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Wednesday signed a suite of legislation that will make it illegal for employers to use non-disclosure agreements and other contractual provisions to stop employees from reporting or discussing sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, The Hill reports:
One of the bills Inslee signed would prohibit employers from requiring nondisclosure agreements that would stop individuals from speaking out about sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. Another will prevent nondisclosure agreements from barring employee testimony in civil lawsuits relating to assault or harassment claims. That bill also allows those bringing the suits to conduct discovery on previous harassment claims.
Inslee also signed a new law voiding employment contracts and arbitration agreements that preclude an employee from filing assault or harassment complaints outside their companies.
Washington is the first state to take this kind of action in the wake of the #MeToo movement that revealed the still-high prevalence of sexual harassment and misconduct in the American workplace, including the statehouses in Olympia and other capitals.
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While federal law in the US does not require organizations to provide their employees with paid family or medical leave, American companies are facing more pressure than ever to do so, from state governments, the labor market, activist investors, and the court of public opinion. All of the 20 largest US employers now offer some kind of paid parental leave benefit to employees who welcome a child into their families, while companies that employ large numbers of hourly workers are offering these employees paid parental and sick leave for the first time.
Of course, family leave encompasses more than maternity or paternity leave: New state family leave laws also obligate employers to grant paid time off when an employee or a member of their family experiences a serious health condition, while sick leave mandates and policies often allow employees to use that leave to care for a sick child or family member. Letting parents take paid sick leave to care for a sick child is not uncommon, but in recent years, progressive employers like Deloitte, Facebook, and Microsoft—to name just a few—have begun adopting more expansive caregiving leave policies. These companies recognize that the aging of the US population is putting many mid-career professionals, especially women, in the position of helping take care of their elderly parents and other relatives. The business case for caregiving leave is persuasive, as such policies help retain valuable talent and avoid losses due to turnover or reduced productivity.
Now that family care leave has entered the American mainstream, however, a new question has arisen: Who counts as family for the purposes of these policies? Some states and localities’ sick leave mandates entitle workers to apply their leave to caring for loved ones to whom they are not related by blood or marriage, the Associated Press’s Jennifer Peltz reports. That’s the case in the states of Arizona and Rhode Island, as well as the big cities of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and soon, Austin and St. Paul.
The concern among some skeptical employers and their advocates, however, is that the more-flexible family designation will encourage the abuse of sick time. But there’s a simple solution to that problem, Brookings Institution senior fellow Richard V. Reeves tells Peltz, which is to sidestep the question of defining “family” or “family equivalent” altogether and simply let workers use their sick leave to care for themselves or another person, whoever that may be. After all, this doesn’t increase the amount of leave to which employees are entitled.
Last week, the board of elections in Washington, DC, approved a ballot measure for the upcoming primary election on June 19 that will ask voters whether to raise the minimum wage for tipped employees in the restaurant industry from its current rate of $3.33 per hour to match the capital city’s minimum wage for all other workers by 2026. Advocates of the measure are framing it as a way of protecting low-income workers, especially women, from harassment and abuse, the Washington Post reported:
[C]ritics of the split-wage system say some workers face intimidation and retaliation when they tell their bosses that tips came up short. They say low-income workers in the restaurant industry deserve the same predictable income as other employees. …
“In this Me Too moment, in this Time’s Up moment, we have to stand up for women and empower women and really call this two-tier wage system for what it is: a source of sexual harassment,” said Diana Ramirez, director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center D.C., which is sponsoring the ballot initiative.
“If you know that you are getting a base wage from the employer, and a customer is acting inappropriately with you, you don’t have to put up with that behavior anymore to make a good tip,” she said.
Restaurant owners and some workers who earn much more than the minimum wage on the basis of tips oppose the measure, saying it will eat into restaurants’ already thin profit margins and force them to raise prices, cut jobs, and perhaps abandon tips altogether in favor of a flat hourly wage.
On the eve of International Women’s Day, observed today, the Washington state legislature passed a landmark bill on Wednesday to introduce new statutory protections for employees designed to help close gender wage gaps and ensure equitable opportunities for men and women in the workplace. GeekWire’s Monica Nickelsburg has the details:
The bill updates Washington’s existing gender pay law for the first time since it was enacted in 1943. It forbids employers from instituting policies that don’t allow workers to discuss their salaries with one another. The new bill also requires employers to provide the same career advancement opportunities to all employees in comparable positions, regardless of gender.
Washington state Rep. Tana Senn sponsored the bill and worked on its language with the technology industry. She lauded support from the Washington Technology Industry Association, Moz CEO Sara Bird, and others. Senn said Microsoft had some reservations about the section of the bill pertaining to career advancement opportunities, but the company was “very actively engaged in working with us on language around that and we got to a great place.”
The Seattle area, home to a number of major tech companies including Microsoft and Amazon, has one of the largest gender pay gaps in the country, Nickelsburg adds, pointing to a study last year by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research showing that women working in King County earn 78.6 cents to every man’s dollar.
Some businesses and lobbying groups in Washington, including Amazon, had pressed the legislature to include a provision in the bill that would preempt local governments from instituting their own gender equity laws beyond what the state would require, Heidi Groover reports at the Stranger: