2020 was without doubt a tumultuous year that saw many new issues brought to the forefront of our collective minds. Naturally, your business should be prepared to respond to the changes that have come about in the recent year. Below are several key issues to consider as your business ventures into the new year:
1. The COVID-19 Pandemic
Unquestionably, the biggest factor forcing change worldwide in 2020 was the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many employees transitioned to working remotely, often on a full-time basis. Many companies were forced to furlough or layoff employees, and many employees chose to retire early or stop working all-together to stay safe. These various workplace structure changes created an influx of employment practice claims. These claims largely focus on:
- Unsafe working conditions resulting from employers’ taking minimal, or no, precautions with respect to coronavirus, such as poor sanitation routines; lack of PPE; and no enforcement of social distancing.
- Allegations of retaliation against employees who object to working conditions or exposure to COVID-19 at the workplace.
- Disability discrimination related to remote working. For example, failing to accommodate remote workers or failing to allow remote work altogether.
- Allegations of employers forcing staff to improperly use their paid time off; retaliation against employees using leave time due to COVID-19; or stopping employees from using leave time entirely.
- Lack of notice of pending layoffs.
- Discrimination with respect to which employees are laid off or furloughed.
Such concerns should not be treated lightly. In fact, you should take care to document all of the organization changes and preparations you have made to ensure you are keeping your office safe and following any required health requirements. Now, more than ever, it is important that you pay close attention to any federal or state laws with respect to employment during the pandemic.
2. Social Movements
2020 also saw the prominent rise of several social movements, the importance of which is significant with respect to employment law and employment practice claims.
The #MeToo movement, an anti-sexual harassment campaign which began in the mid-2000s, has been credited with leading to a 50% increase in sexual harassment lawsuits against employers in the past few years according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This movement shines a light on why it is crucial for your company’s sexual harassment policies to be effective and made known to your employees. Consider implementing stringent policies and a clear reporting procedure, if not already in place.
Likewise, the Black Lives Matter movement, a social justice campaign focusing on the unequal treatment of African Americans, especially within the context of policing—has brought to light the various discrimination issues employees continue to face at work. Ensuring that your company takes steps to promote diversity, acceptance, and inclusion in the workplace is crucial to developing a strong and united workforce. Take the time to review your company’s diversity practices as we enter the new year to start the year off strong.
3. LGBTQ+ Protections
2020 also saw many important United States Supreme Court decisions. One of the most notable being its recent decision to confirm that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender people from workplace discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This decision cements the status of gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes, brining them into the same level of protection as race, national identity, and disability.
4. Age Discrimination
It is no secret that the so-called “baby boomer” generation is beginning to exit the workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the share of employees over the age of 55 in the national workforce is expected to rise by about 25% in the next few years. Keep in mind that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of age, for those who are aged 40 and over. Thus, as more people enter this protected category, employers should take stock of their practices and make sure the workplace culture does not allow for ageism in hiring, promotion, payoffs, and the like.
5. Wage, Leave, and Salary History
Wage and hour laws have always been varied and in flux throughout our nation. 2020 has been no exception. Many states are becoming increasingly stringent with respect to employment record maintenance and transparency. Notably, some states have recently prohibited or curtailed employers’ ability to request or require salary history from job applicants as a condition of employment or interview. These laws vary considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so be sure to speak with a legal professional and adjust your practices as necessary if planning on hiring new employees this year.
6. Marijuana Legalization
As of January 2021, medical marijuana is legal in 36 states and recreational marijuana is available in 15 states as well. These major changes in legislation are significant and you should take this time to review how they may affect your employment practices. For example, some states have enacted legislation limiting an employer’s ability to test employees for marijuana and courts have affirmed employees’ right to use marijuana in the lawsuits that followed. Do your business practices conform to your state’s current marijuana laws?
In sum, 2020 has been a significant year for everyone, but especially so for business owners. Taking proactive steps to adjust to these changes will ease the burden and lower chances of finding yourself defending an employment practice claim. In sum, Daudi & Kroll, P.C., can help you stay confident that your business is adapting to change and staying ahead of the legal landscape as you head into the new year!
Alex Stratilatov is an Attorney at Daudi & Kroll, P.C., focusing primarily on Corporate Formation, Business Law, Contract Negotiation and Drafting, Real Estate Transactions, and Business and Real Estate Litigation. He can contacted for any questions related to this article or other areas of law at firstname.lastname@example.org or (517) 381-2663.