Michael Best attorney Kerryann Haase Minton was featured in the Crain's Custom Media Roundtable Discussion "Labor & Employment Law: What Business Owners and CEOs Should Know."
In this year of political transition, employers are coping with new legal requirements, while positioning themselves to handle further shifts in enforcement and regulation at the national, state and local levels. At the same time, they’re struggling to keep current with changing social norms in the workplace.
As the first in a series of roundtable discussions, Crain’s Custom Media turned to some of Chicago’s leading employment attorneys to get their views about trends and issues impacting today’s changing workplace.
CCM posed the following questions to these experts. Their responses offer a glimpse into the state of business employment in 2016.
Which of Illinois' new employment laws are most likely to land employers in court?
DAVID B. RITTER: Changes to the federal overtime regulations that become effective Dec. 1 will impact how all companies pay overtime. Another new law calls for a yearly increase in the Chicago minimum wage for tipped and non-tipped employees, which will go up every July 1 from 2015 to 2019 and thereafter based on the CPI. A third is the new Chicago ordinance granting employees the right to earn five days of paid sick leave. You can bet that plaintiff's attorneys are aware of all of these laws and are waiting for employers to violate them.
KERRYANN HAASE MINTON: The Illinois Human Rights Act was amended in 2015 to include additional protections for pregnant employees. Illinois employers now are required to accommodate pregnancy or any of the "common conditions" associated with pregnancy. The Act does not define what these "common conditions" are, leaving open the opportunity for broad interpretation. Significantly, the Act identifies light duty as an accommodation. Employers who allow light duty only for employees with a worker's compensation injury are subject to liability if they do not provide the same light duty opportunities to pregnant employees.
What recommendations do you have with respect to employers complying with the new Fair Labor Standards Act salary exemption rules that take effect on Dec. 1?
JOE YASTROW: Do a general audit to ensure compliance as it pertains to your business. Review the salaries of exempt employees to make sure they're going to hit the $47,476 annual threshold under the new standards. If employees don't reach the threshold – and certain bonuses can be added to help them make it -- they're no longer considered exempt. You'll then need to raise their salaries to the required level, or decide to keep them as non-exempt and pay overtime. Some employees who work hours that don't fluctuate significantly and who don't work much overtime might be better converted to hourly compensation rather than increasing their salaries to comply. Publicity surrounding the pending changes has caused people to be more sensitive to the requirements, and more likely to contact the Dept. of Labor with potential complaints.
MINTON: Conduct your audits well before the Dec. 1 deadline, and don't limit them to solely examining whether the new salary threshold is met. Review your job descriptions and make sure your exempt employees meet the duties test requirements. Make sure you have a clear communications plan in place, and make sure you know the answers to the most common employee classification questions before they arise.
RITTER: There are many additional matters to consider, including budgets, staffing and employee morale.
What are your views on the newly passed Chicago Paid Sick Leave Ordinance?
MINTON: Paid sick leave is a trend that's becoming a reality for employers across the country. Although the initial reaction was one of concern by employers, many employers already are providing this benefit to their employees.
YASTROW: Many affected employers are already giving enough time off, and they won't have to increase their benefits. For those employers who aren't, the potential increase in labor costs for this and the new Minimum Wage Ordinance could cause them to relocate outside of the city.
RITTER: It's straightforward and Chicago employers will simply have to comply. They'll either find ways to adapt, raise prices, or just flee the city.