There are four recently enacted employment laws in particular that could put your company at risk if you’re not prepared.
Attorney Joyce Collier, partner at Pennsylvania- and New Jersey-based Uebler Law LLC, discussed how HR pros can best align their organizational policies and procedures with these employment laws during an episode of the HRMorning podcast “Voices of HR.”
A careful review of existing policies, procedures and employment documents will be in order to ensure they’re in compliance. This could lead to either creating new policies, updating existing policies or removing policies that are no longer compliant.
“I think it’s very important for the employer to make sure that they’re updating their (employment law) posters. I think it’s also important … to communicate (to employees), ‘Look, we’re updating our handbook to take into consideration these new laws,'” she said.
Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers. Accommodations can include modified work schedules and duties, more frequent breaks and/or access to a private space other than a bathroom when lactating.
Collier noted PWFA’s similarity to another familiar employment law, the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Whenever a pregnant worker is experiencing a hardship or a difficulty relating to their pregnancy, an employer can’t just say …‘We can’t deal with that right now.’ It really is a matter of doing the same thing that employers are required to do under the Americans with Disabilities Act – engaging in the interactive process,” she said.
“The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act does protect employees from retaliation, coercion, intimidation, threats or interference. So in other words, there can also be claims for retaliation, even if (an) accommodation seems … an undue hardship for the employer. The employer can’t then say, ‘Well, this employee was causing us so much trouble by asking for all of these things,’ and then take action against the employee.”
Nursing mothers have expanded protections in the workplace under the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) Act and as a result, employers may need to update their break time policy.
Collier said that while the PWFA is enforced by the EECOC, the PUMP Act is enforced by the Department of Labor. “Time spent pumping must be counted as hours worked for the purposes of minimum wage and overtime requirements,” she said.
It’s crucial to provide a private space for nursing mothers to express breast milk during work hours because employees who are nursing mothers now have the right to sue if their employer doesn’t comply.
Speak Out Act
The Speak Out Act prohibits non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) from being included in employment agreements and onboarding forms – documents that are signed by an employee before a dispute arises.
“The onboarding forms are the things that employers really have to go back and double-check and make sure that they are in compliance with the Speak Out Act,” Collier said.
In addition, Collier noted: “There’s many, many state legislatures who are enacting laws that prohibit NDAs in settlement agreements of sexual harassment cases. So the (states) of Washington, Oregon, New Jersey, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico and California, for example, are states that … have laws that say, and in different ways, that settlement agreements that contain NDAs are prohibited, unless the employee wants the information to be held confidential.”
Employment law ends required arbitration of sexual misconduct disputes
Any company arbitration agreements also need a close look. The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Cases Act amends the Federal Arbitration Act to make it clear that pre-dispute arbitration agreements and joint action waivers are unenforceable in sexual assault and sexual harassment cases.
Employees can take their employers to court for sexual assault and sexual harassment, even if they signed an arbitration agreement.
Collier recommended annual employee sexual harassment training.