Top 3 Employment Law Issues for 2016

February 10, 2016

Here is a look at three of the top employment law issues human resources departments will likely face in 2016:

  1. Misclassification of Employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act: The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is on the verge of issuing new regulations “white collar” employee exemptions. According to the proposed regulations issued in 2015, the DOL plans to raise the minimum annual salary level required for “white collar” exemptions to approximately $50,440 (or about $970 per week), up from the current $23,660 ($455 per week) - an increase of 113%. The DOL also proposes to raise the minimum total annual compensation required to qualify for the “highly compensated” exemption to be equal to the 90th percentile of earnings for full-time salaried employees ($122,148 per year as of 2013).

    Human resources departments should begin to prepare for the implementation of these changes in the event they are issued this year by self-auditing the company’s current employee classifications and making plans for future changes to their company’s compensation structure.   

  2. Social Media: Social media has had an enormous effect on employers over the past few years and we expect to see these issues continue and evolve in 2016. Human resources departments should consider updating the company’s policies, including those policies regarding discrimination and harassment and confidential and proprietary information, to extend to social media. On the other hand, remember that some social media activity may not be within the purview of human resources. Under the National Labor Relations Act, employees are permitted to join together to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment, including wages, training, and management.

    In 2016, expect that the National Labor Relations Board will continue to focus on employers who prohibit employees from engaging in this behavior online through social media accounts.  

  3. Pregnancy Discrimination and Accommodations: 2015 was a watershed year for pregnancy accommodation issues. In Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court held that women may prove unlawful pregnancy discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) by showing that the employer accommodated some employees with work restrictions but not pregnant women with the same work restrictions. Notably, the Court also found that an employer may violate the PDA if the employer’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for denying accommodation to a pregnant employee imposes a significant burden on pregnant employees without a sufficiently strong justification. Following this decision, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued revised guidance on pregnancy discrimination. The revised EEOC guidance makes clear that an employer may still be subject to liability for denying an accommodation to a pregnant employee, even if the employer has a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for doing so, if such reason significantly burdens pregnant employees.

    As a result, human resources departments should re-examine the company’s policies and practices accommodations for pregnant employees and ensure compliance with the new legal standard.

Contributed by Carly Osadetz, Clark Hill's Labor & Employment Practice Group.