As we near the end of an interesting -- if not tumultuous year – it’s worth taking some time to review what’s happened in the world of employment laws and look ahead to 2017.

Equal Employment Opportunity

Equal pay, transgender rights and immigration have topped the employment law news in 2016.

Earlier this year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued rules changing the EEO-1 report to require employers with 100 or more employees (or federal contractors with 50 or more employees + $50,000 in contracts) to include pay data when submitting these annual reports.  This change was specifically targeted so that the EEOC can monitor equal pay between men and women. It’s also believed this would enable the EEOC would evaluate pay equity based on race. While this change won’t become effective until 2018, many employers are concerned about how this information will be used and, of more concern, that the pay data will become public information that’s accessible to competitors.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin and religion.  The EEOC has issued guidance making it clear that the agency believes transgender rights are covered by The Act.  Although a number of circuit courts disagree, it’ll be interesting to see how this ends up ultimately being interpreted.  Regardless of what’s happening on a federal level, numerous states and municipalities have adopted laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orienation and gender identity.  It’s important for employers to find out what the law is in their state and local communities.

The Presidential debates put immigration on the forefront of the political arena.  Although no major policy changes have been issued, we can expect focus on this area in 2017.  On November 14, a new Form I-9 was issued and is more user-friendly to those completing the form electronically.  Although the Form I-9 dated March 8, 2013 may be used until January 21, 2017, it’s recommended that employers begin using the newest version of the form right away.

Compensation & Benefits

The most significant change that sent employers into a tailspin were regulations requiring employers to increase the minimum guaranteed salary for exempt employees from $455 per week to $913 per week.  The implementation of the rules, which were to go into effect December 1, have been delayed pending a temporary injunction issued by a federal court judge in Texas on November 22.  Employers are encouraged to keep their eyes on this topic because the outcome could go many different ways.  At this time, hang onto the analysis you’ve done and keep track of the decisions you’ve made with respect to how you were going to implement this rule December 1.  You may need to revisit those analyses and decisions again in the new year depending on what happens in the courts.

The Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) reporting requirements went into effect this year.  Employers with 50 or more employees were required to submit reports to the IRS demonstrating their compliance with the shared responsibility/minimum coverage requirements under the Act.  Additionally, employers had to provide employees with individualized statements showing what group health benefits were provided to them in the previous year.

Safety & Health

In a rather surprising move, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) issued final rules requiring employers with 250 or more employees and employers with 20-249 employees in certain industries to submit their annual illness and injury logs to OSHA beginning in 2017.  These electronic records will be made public so that current employees, prospective employees, unions, etc. can see what a particular company’s safety record has been. Additionally, this final rule prohibits employers from adopting policies that call for automatic drug testing of anyone who has been involved in an accident or who has an illness or injury.  OSHA believes these types of policies deter employees from reporting incidents and not obtaining the necessary treatment for their illnesses and injuries.  OSHA does make exceptions to this part of their rule for employers who must comply with certain drug testing requirements, such as those required by the Department of Transportation.

What does the future hold?

2017 promises to be an interesting year.  A new President and administration can bring unexpected changes to the workplace. President-elect Trump may not make as many changes as people anticipate.  For example, based on his political ads advocating for paid leave for employees, it’s unlikely he’s going to eliminate federal contractors’ obligations to provide 7 days (56 hours) of sick leave each year to their employees.  However, based on his stance during the political campain, it’s likely he’s going to focus intensely on immigration and may push for a rule that requires ALL employers to use E-verify to confirm the work eligibility of all new hires.  Additionally, Mr. Trump may seek additional funding to enable more workplace investigations to insure compliance with laws prohibiting the employment of unauthorized workers.

As 2016 comes to a close and 2017 peeks its head over the horizon, it’s important for employers to be vigilant to stay abreast of changes to current employment laws and new laws that may be implemented in the future.

Contributed by the Employers Association Forum, Inc. (EAF). EAF is a non-profit corporate membership-based association dedicated to serving the business and HR communities with world-class HR tools, hotlines & legal compliance, news & trends, surveys & economic data, benefits & insurance, risk management, training & consulting, and leadership & organizational development. HCCMO members receive discounted rates on all EAF classroom training at EAF’s training center in Longwood. Click here to learn more about EAF membership benefits http://eafinc.org/about-eaf/value-of-membership/.