Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker, P.L.L.C. | <strong >Expected Trends in Employment Law for 2016</strong >  By: Melonie L.M. Stothers
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  • Expected Trends in Employment Law for 2016  By: Melonie L.M. Stothers
    03/16/2016

    Expected Trends in Employment Law for 2016 

    By: Melonie L.M. Stothers

    Changes in employment law can alter the workplace dramatically. The best way to manage that change is to be prepared. These changes and trends are expected in 2016:

    Wages
    As of January 1, 2016, Michigan’s minimum wage rose to $8.50 per hour ($3.10 for tipped employees).  On January 1, 2017, the minimum wage will rise to $8.90 per hour ($3.23 for tipped employees).
    Changes are in store for many salaried employees currently exempt from overtime as well. Last summer, the Department of Labor (“DoL”) proposed changes for determining which employees are exempt from overtime. These changes are expected be adopted later in 2016. The proposed changes would raise the minimum compensation level for an exempt, salaried employee from $455 per week to $921 per week. This amount would be automatically increased annually.

    Classification of Workers
    Many legal requirements and employer obligations depend upon the classification of the workers—are they an employee or an independent contractor? Last year, the DoL issued a new interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act to show employers how it determines whether a worker is an independent contractor rather than an employee. Then, on January 20, 2016, the DoL issued new guidance on joint employment relationships, defining the methods and circumstances under which the DoL will treat two or more employers as the same with respect to a single individual. For practical purposes, both communications from the DoL help to define the duties and obligations businesses owe individuals who provide them services outside of the traditional employer-employee relationship, especially as it relates to subcontractors, temp agency labor, and employees of closely related business entities. Ensuring that you are properly classifying workers can prevent costly lawsuits and damage claims for unpaid overtime, workers’ compensation, and wrongfully withheld employment benefits and privileges.

    Pregnancy Discrimination
    In 2015, in Young v UPS, the Supreme Court clarified that employers cannot discriminate against pregnant workers by failing to provide accommodations to pregnant workers that are provided to other workers who have a similar ability or inability to carry out their duties (absent a legitimate business reason to do otherwise). The EEOC also issued new guidance for enforcement of pregnancy anti-discrimination laws and related issues. For practical purposes, employers must ensure, if they have light duty or restricted duty policies, that those policies comply with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.
    Legislation currently pending in Congress, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would take pregnancy protection further. If passed, the Act will require employers to accommodate the “known limitations related to the pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions”.

    Religion
    No new laws have been passed prohibiting discrimination and harassment in the workplace because of an employee’s religion. However, increased news coverage of global terrorism is expected to increase religion-based fear in many people. Employers must be vigilant in ensuring that employment decisions are not based upon the religion of an applicant or employee and that employees are not harassed in the workplace because of their religion.

    LGBT Rights
    2015 brought legalization of same-sex marriage in Michigan and across the country. Employers need to be mindful of that change when addressing a myriad of issues with employees and in their policy manuals (including, but not limited to policies regarding benefits and leave). Michigan’s Elliott–Larsen Civil Rights Act does not expressly prohibit discrimination because of sexual orientation, but both the EEOC and Michigan Department of Civil Rights have been using the existing anti-discrimination laws to challenge workplace policies and practices that discriminate against LGBT employees.

    Discussions of Work Conditions
    The National Labor Relations Board is expected to continue to bring enforcement actions against employers, whether unionized or not, that prevent employees from discussing with each other (in person or over social media) work conditions, employment terms, and wages.

    Conclusion
    No short list of legal trends can capture the nuances of the changes in the law, but it can alert employers to what is coming. Obtaining a legal review of your employee policy manual will help to prevent your company from falling victim to these and other changes in the law.
    Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker has a concentrated practice in employment law, among other areas of business law and litigation.  For more information, please contact me at (313) 965-9725.