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Employment Law Changes in 2016

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

As people across the country gather with friends and family to celebrate the holidays and usher 2015 to a close, they’re probably not discussing the numerous legal and statutory changes that take place as the calendar turns from December to January. Over this past year, federal, state and local governments passed a variety of new laws, and amended many more. Several of these changes go into effect with the new year.

On January 1, 2016, New York City’s Commuter Benefits Law goes into effect. This new law requires that most private employers with more than twenty full-time, non-union employees offer their full-time employees the opportunity to use pre-tax income to purchase qualified transportation fringe benefits. In practice, this means that employees of covered employers can elect to pay for up to $255 per month of commuter costs – such as fares on the MTA, LIRR, PATH, NJ Transit, as well as some ferries, commuter vans, and busses – pre-tax, meaning that the employee can avoid paying taxes on these expenses. The Commuter Benefits Law caps these expenses at $255 per month, and only covers expenses related to public transportation, not those related to driving or carpooling. While this new law is unlikely to drastically change your employment, it is a convenient new benefit that employers and employees need to understand.

On January 19, 2016, a series of amendments to New York Labor Law will take effect. The modifications significantly change New York employment law; employees and employers alike must adjust to these developments in the new year. The changes include:

  • expanding sexual harassment protections to workers at companies with less than four employees;
  • adding attorneys’ fees to damages employees can recover in sex discrimination lawsuits;
  • Including “familial status” as a protected class under the New York State Human Rights Law;
  • Narrowing the exceptions to New York’s Equal Pay law;
  • Protecting worker’s rights to discuss their wages; and
  • Expanding protections for pregnant workers under New York State law.

These statutory amendments will significantly expand workers’ rights and protections in New York in the coming year.

In addition to statutory changes, many annual minimum wage hikes take place as the new year begins. In New York, the minimum wage will increase from $8.75 an hour to $9.00 an hour in the new year. This is not the only wage hike that will take place: in a major change, the minimum wage for tipped workers, including those in the restaurant and hospitality industries, will increase from $5.00 an hour to $7.50 an hour. The tipped minimum wage is what employers must pay tipped employees in addition to whatever tips they receive; as this rate had remained flat since 2011, the raise is a welcome relief to servers and workers across the state.

Likewise, in response to widespread protests, New York State implemented new fast food minimum wage rules which begin to go into effect in 2016. As of the new year, fast food workers must be paid at least $9.75 an hour throughout New York State, and $10.50 an hour in New York City. These wage increases will help thousands of workers who struggle to make ends meet by working one or more low-paying jobs in the fast food industry.

Many important changes to workplace rights will take place in the coming weeks, so while you reflect on 2015, make sure to consider the progress that was made and the new benefits to be enjoyed in 2016. Contact The Harman Firm, LLP, if you believe your employer has violated your rights.

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