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New Year, New Laws, New Policies  

12.20.2019

With the new year quickly approaching, it is a great time for employers to revisit handbooks, policies and procedures to ensure they remain in compliance with constantly changing employment laws. Each year, federal and state governments ring in the new year by rolling out new laws. This year is no different – on January 1, 2020, dozens of new employment laws impacting employers are set to take effect in various states. The following discusses a few of these new laws and also provides suggested policy updates for the coming year.

ESG Policies

Although not a new law, ESG policies and programs are on the rise. Many companies are now focusing on environmental, social, and governance ("ESG") factors to not only enhance their bottom line, but also help fulfill their goals, meet customer and client needs, retain top talent, and attract investors. For purposes of ESG, the "environmental" factor measures the company’s impact or footprint on the environment, the "social" factor assesses the company’s reputation and relations with other businesses and communities (i.e. diversity, human rights, and consumer protection considerations), and the "governance" factor looks at the internal affairs of a company, such as the relationships among stockholders, employees, and executives, as well as the measures a company is taking to protect itself on the cybersecurity front. When considered together, these ESG factors help establish a framework for assessing the impact of the sustainability and ethical practices of a company on its overall financial performance and operations. Employers in all industries can use these factors to better manage risk.

A well-developed ESG program can allow a company to build a stronger corporate brand and promote sustainable long-term growth. ESG policies specific to human resources include (among others) an emphasis on talent attraction and retention, diversity and pay equity, and the #METoo movement. Employment policies can have a large impact on ESG factors. Even if your company does not want to adopt a comprehensive ESG program, we encourage human resources professionals to consider whether their company’s existing policies are sufficient in this ESG environment.

Illinois

In 2019, Illinois joined the rapidly growing group of states that have legalized recreational marijuana. Effective January 1, 2020, a person who is 21 years or older may possess and use marijuana in an amount that does not exceed the law’s possession limit. In response to this law, employers may adopt reason0able, non-discriminatory drug-free workplace policies; however, employers with employees in Illinois should tread lightly when attempting to regulate an employee’s marijuana use during the employee’s non-working time.

New legislation also significantly modified the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"). Beginning January 1, 2020, actionable "harassment" under the IHRA includes any unwelcome conduct based on a protected class when the conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with the individual’s work performance, or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. This means that substantially more harassing conduct is considered to be unlawful under the IHRA compared to its federal equivalent, Title VII. For conduct to be actionable under Title VII, the conduct must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of an individual’s employment.

California

California legislators have made several changes to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"). Beginning January 1, 2020, the term "race" will be expanded to include traits historically associated with race, such as hair texture and protective hairstyles (i.e., braids, twists, and locks). Additionally, the statute of limitations for filing a claim of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation under the FEHA will increase from one to three years.

State Specific Paid Leave

Nearly a dozen states and many more cities have enacted paid leave laws, some of which are set to go into effect January 1, 2020. Each state and local paid leave law has different rules about who is covered and the reasons leave can be used, making compliance difficult for employers – especially those with employees in multiple states and localities. In order to ensure compliance, employers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the state and local laws where their employees work.

Federal

As a reminder, the Department of Labor announced changes to the "white-collar" and "highly compensated" employee exemptions for overtime calculations. These changes are set to go into effect January 1, 2020. Please see Koley Jessen’s October 2019 Newsflash for a broader discussion of these new regulations.

If you have questions about any new laws set to take effect on January 1, 2020 or want assistance in developing new or updated company policies, please contact a member of the Koley Jessen Employment, Labor, and Benefits Practice Group.

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