A Texas state appeals court last week temporarily blocked a local ordinance in the capital city of Austin requiring employers to provide paid sick leave from going into effect, the Texas Tribune reported:
[T]he measure quickly drew opposition from local and state leaders, including a lawsuit filed in April by the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation claiming that the city measure violates the Texas Minimum Wage Act. … The ordinance had been set to take effect Oct. 1.
“Without this stay, Austin business owners would be forced to incur significant costs implementing the requirements of the ordinance while its legality was in serious doubt,” said Robert Henneke, general counsel and litigation director for TPPF’s Center for the American Future. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has lent support to the lawsuit, also praised the news, saying the issue of minimum wage is “entrusted by the Texas Constitution solely to the Texas Legislature.”
Austin’s ordinance, which the city council passed in a 9–2 vote in February, has also faced opposition from Republicans in the state legislature, who promised at the time to pass legislation at the state level that would preempt it. Other states with conservative legislatures have taken similar measures to stop local governments from enacting liberal labor laws in the past year. Indiana banned cities from implementing “ban-the-box” laws, Missouri passed a preemption law to prevent cities like St. Louis from legislating higher minimum wages, and a Florida court found that a minimum wage increase in Miami Beach was preempted by state law.
The New York City Council passed legislation on Wednesday to put a one-year cap on for-hire vehicle licenses and to empower the city government to set a minimum wage for ridesharing drivers, in a crackdown on the largely unregulated growth of platforms like Uber and Lyft, the New York Times reported:
The proposal to cap ride-hail companies led to a clash among interest groups with taxi industry officials saying the companies were dooming their business and Uber mounting a major advertising campaign to make the case that yellow cabs have a history of discriminating against people of color.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, said the bills will curtail the worsening traffic on the streets and improve low driver wages. … But Uber has warned its riders that the cap could produce higher prices and longer wait times for passengers if the company cannot keep up with the growing demand.
New York is the largest market for Uber in the US, but already regulated ridesharing more stringently than many other American cities. To address concerns about unfair competition from the local taxi industry, New York requires drivers to obtain special licenses from the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, along with commercial liability insurance and special plates for their vehicles, which must meet certain eligibility criteria.
The new will not affect Uber and Lyft drivers who are already licensed to operate in the city, but will pause the issuing of new licenses immediately while the city studies the effects of the rise of ridesharing on traffic, driver wages, and the local economy.
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.