Airlines’ Legal Campaign Against Sick Leave Mandates Targets Massachusetts

Airlines’ Legal Campaign Against Sick Leave Mandates Targets Massachusetts

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.

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Several States Considering Restrictions on Non-Compete Agreements

Several States Considering Restrictions on Non-Compete Agreements

In 2016, Massachusetts state lawmakers failed to reach a compromise over a bill that would strictly limit companies’ ability to enforce non-compete clauses in employees’ contracts, slowing the momentum of a trend among states to restrict the use of these agreements in roles where they were unnecessary or would overly limit employees’ future career prospects. The bill was widely expected to be revisited in the state’s next legislative session; sure enough, it has, and members of the Massachusetts House and Senate are now close to reaching a deal on a bill that satisfies both houses’ concerns, Jon Chesto reports at the Boston Globe:

There are still some issues to be worked out between House and Senate negotiators. The legislation will most likely include noncontroversial elements such as bans on using noncompetes for lower-paid hourly workers, such as camp counselors and sub-shop employees. But the two sides have yet to agree on how long noncompete contracts can remain in force. In 2016, the House leadership supported up to 12 months, while the Senate backed a three-month limit. Another potential sticking point: the wording for how departing employees should receive payments, known as “garden leave,” while their noncompetes are in effect.

Advocates for curbing the use of non-competes in Massachusetts say it harms the state’s ability to leverage its highly educated workforce and become a full-fledged tech startup hub like California, which is one of the few states where the use of such clauses is almost always prohibited and where courts generally have refused to recognize them. Most other states have laws that limit the use of non-competes to the protection of trade secrets and other confidential information, but impose a varied range of standards for determining whether an agreement is enforceable.

Lawmakers in three other states—New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Vermont—are also considering new restrictions this year, Jackson Lewis attorneys Daniel P. Schwarz, Martha Van Oot, Erik J. Winton and Colin A. Thakkar write at SHRM:

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Massachusetts Becomes First State Where Over Half of Workforce Holds a Bachelor’s Degree

Massachusetts Becomes First State Where Over Half of Workforce Holds a Bachelor’s Degree

By at least one measure, Massachusetts has the most educated workforce of any state in the US, according to a new report from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. Citing an analysis of Current Population Survey data by the Economic Policy Institute, the report reveals that 50.2 percent of Massachusetts workers hold at least a bachelor’s degree. New Jersey is the second most educated state, with 45.2 percent of workers holding BAs, followed by New York, Maryland, and Connecticut. Nationwide, 35.5 percent of the workforce has a bachelor’s degree.

The report, titled “Education and State Economic Strength: A Snapshot of Current Data,” also notes that these high levels of education correlate with high median hourly wages: $21.35 in New Jersey and $21.22 in Massachusetts compared to a national average of $17.80.

“While it might seem obvious in 2017 that higher levels of college education would be associated with higher earnings at the state level,” the report adds, “this relationship is actually a fairly recent feature of the US economy. In 1979, the correlation between the educational attainment of a state’s workforce and its median hourly wage was weak.”

Indeed, the EPI’s latest research has found that the college wage premium is at an all-time high since economists began measuring it over 40 years ago. Other studies have shown that the class of 2017 stood to earn higher starting salaries than their peers who graduated in other recent years, while holders of two-year associate degrees are also finding more decent-paying jobs than they were a generation ago.

Wages in Massachusetts have also been growing faster for more educated than less educated workers, and a key challenge for the state today is ensuring that young people can afford the advanced educations they need to remain competitive in a highly educated job market, the Boston Globe’s Katie Johnson points out:

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Mass. High Court Rules in Favor of Employee Fired for Medical Marijuana Use

Mass. High Court Rules in Favor of Employee Fired for Medical Marijuana Use

Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court became the first court in the US to rule in favor of an employee who uses medical marijuana and claimed unfair dismissal after being fired from her job for failing a drug test, the Boston Globe‘s Dan Adams reported:

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants said a California sales and marketing firm discriminated against an employee of its Massachusetts operation who uses marijuana to treat Crohn’s disease when it fired her for flunking a drug test. In Massachusetts, Gants wrote, “the use and possession of medically prescribed marijuana by a qualifying patient is as lawful as the use and possession of any other prescribed medication.”

Therefore, he said, employers can’t use blanket anti-marijuana policies to dismiss workers whose doctors have prescribed the drug to treat their illnesses. Instead, antidiscrimination laws require companies to attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable arrangement with each medical marijuana patient they employ, such as exploring alternative medications or allowing use of the drug only outside of work hours.

The court overturned a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit brought by Cristina Barbuto against her employer, Advantage Sales and Marketing, which fired her after just one day on the job when she tested positive for marijuana, even though Barbuto said she had told the company during her job interviews that she used it medicinally after work hours to treat her condition and her hiring manager had said it would not be an issue. The lower court will now retry Barbuto’s case under the guidelines established by the high court. (Read the full ruling here.)

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Several States Raise Minimum Wage, Relax Marijuana Laws

Several States Raise Minimum Wage, Relax Marijuana Laws

The upset victory of Donald Trump in the presidential race was the biggest change to come out of Tuesday’s elections in the US, but it was not the only decision made at the polls with major consequences for business and HR. Voters in several states participated in referenda or ballot initiatives whose outcomes will affect hiring, compensation, and other HR policies.

Marijuana Legalization Moves Ahead

California, Massachusetts, and Nevada all passed ballot measures legalizing recreational marijuana use. Arizona voters rejected a legalization initiative while another, in Maine, is too close to call, so the state is looking at absentee ballots (Update: Maine’s ballot initiative ultimately passed by a narrow margin and went into effect January 30). Measures to legalize the use of medical marijuana succeeded in Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota, while Montana liberalized its existing law on medical marijuana. After Tuesday’s votes, 28 states plus Washington, DC have legalized marijuana use for some purpose, either medical or recreational.

This national tide may have an impact on employers’ drug policies. In short, because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, employers are still on fairly solid legal ground to maintain zero-tolerance policies, but these policies need to be communicated clearly and we may see more litigation over medical marijuana-related disability claims. Employment lawyers tell SHRM’s Lisa Nagele-Piazza that employers in states where medical use has been legalized may want to specifically address it in their drug policies:

Particularly if they are card holders for medical marijuana, employees may think that because it is legal, they are protected, [Danielle Urban, an attorney with Fisher Phillips,] noted. However, only a few states actually provide employment protections for card carriers. Employers should also note that some states, like California, have very restrictive drug-testing rules, [Oagletree Deakins attorney Austin] Smith said. Therefore, if employers want to test employees more often, they need to know what limits their state puts on drug testing.

So Do Minimum Wages

Arizona, Colorado, and Maine all passed referenda raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, and Washington state voted to raise its pay floor to $13.50 an hour by the same year. A South Dakota referendum that would have lowered the minimum wage for employees under 18 from $8.55 to $7.50 failed decisively. Bloomberg’s Jordan Yadoo explains the economic debate that motivated South Dakota to vote on the question:

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Will Massachusetts’ Salary History Law Set a Trend?

Will Massachusetts’ Salary History Law Set a Trend?

When Massachusetts’s state legislature passed a law barring employers from asking job candidates about their salary histories last month, it became the first US state to enact such a measure. It won’t be the last, either, Susan Meisinger predicts at HRE Online:

I’m comfortable in predicting that a similar provision is coming soon to your state. Consider this: The bill was passed unanimously by the Massachusetts House and Senate, which are controlled by Democrats, and was signed into law by the governor — who is a Republican. It was a bi-partisan measure. … The bell has rung, and similar legislative action is coming your way soon!

If Massachusetts does turn out to be a bellwether, she adds, it could have major implications for how salary negotiations are conducted:

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Massachusetts Enacts Equal Pay Law, Bars Requests for Salary Histories

Massachusetts Enacts Equal Pay Law, Bars Requests for Salary Histories

Although the Massachusetts state legislature was unable to agree on a bill to restrict the use of non-compete clauses in employment contracts, another bill with major consequences for employers and employees passed both houses unanimously and was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker on Monday. The new law updates the state’s 1945 equal pay law to introduce new protections meant to help close the gender pay gap, Shira Schoenberg reports for MassLive:

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