From paid maternity leave to raises for minimum wage workers, several new state and local laws that go into effect in 2018 will directly impact women workers.
“It’s a really exciting time,” said Andrea Johnson, senior counsel for state policy at the National Women’s Law Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for women’s equality. “Progress has been stalled in Congress and at the federal level, but things have really been happening at the state level.”
As the Trump administration has rolled back laws meant to promote equal pay for men and women and taken aim at federal discrimination protections such as Title IX, states are moving to fill the gaps, Johnson said.
It’s not just blue states like California and New York that are taking action. Mississippi has been considering a law to address pay disparities between men and women, Johnson said. “It’s not only about women, it’s about their families, too. It’s incredibly important to overall economic well-being and it’s really exciting to see states stepping up.”
Employers, especially those that do business in multiple states, should stay up to date on these new laws to make sure they’re not running afoul of new regulations, said Ilyse Schuman, an attorney with Littler, a global employment law firm. “Those that are operating in multiple jurisdictions are trying to figure out how to navigate that increasingly complex terrain,” Schuman said.
Here’s a look at new laws that went into effect on Jan. 1 or will take effect sometime in 2018.
Minimum wage increases
Almost two-thirds of minimum wage workers in the U.S. are women, according to the National Women’s Law Center and, in 18 states, they’re about to get raises. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and hasn’t increased since 2009. A woman with two children working full-time at that rate would live near or below the poverty line in nearly every state, according to a 2017 analysis by NWLC.
In California, the minimum wage went up 50 cents an hour starting Jan. 1 to $11 an hour. In some Bay Area and Silicon Valley cities where income inequality has soared, the minimum wage will shoot up to $15 an hour. Increases are also happening in Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, and, later this year, in New York City.
All told the new laws will create an additional $5 billion in annual wages for 4.5 million workers nationwide, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit Washington, D.C think tank.
Time off for domestic violence and stalking victims
In Nevada, employers will be required to provide time off (either paid or unpaid) to domestic violence victims and in New York City, paid sick leave will be expanded to include time off for victims of sexual offenses and stalking starting in May. Nevada employees can use the leave to do things like get counseling, go to court or go to the doctor.
Paid time off when you have a baby, adopt or care for a family member
The sorry state of U.S. maternity leave is a rude awakening for legions of new working mothers, who are generally shocked to learn that if their employer offers any sort of maternity leave, it often follows the federal Family and Medical Leave Act — 12 weeks of leave with no pay at all.
But for both men and women in New York state, that’s about to change. Starting in 2018, employees who work at least 20 hours a week at private employers will get 50% of their salaries, capped at $652 a week, for eight weeks when they need time to bond with a new baby or adopted child or care for a sick relative. Employees will be eligible for more pay and more time off as the law expands over the next few years. By 2021, employees will receive 67% of their salary for up to 12 weeks. New York follows in the footsteps of California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, the only other states to require paid family leave.
Questions about salary history won’t be allowed anymore
Employers of all sizes won’t be allowed to ask job applicants about their salary history in California, and starting on July 1 in San Francisco, employers won’t be allowed to give out salary information about current or former employees without written permission. Delaware enacted a similar law in December 2017, and New York City banned questions about pay history starting on Oct. 31, 2017.
Worker advocates have hailed the laws as a step toward achieving equal pay for women and men.
“It’s the dreaded question in the interview process because we all know it’s often a very unfair question to ask,” Johnson said. “When we take a step back and look at it, it’s forcing women to take pay disparity with them from job to job.”
But some employers are skeptical about the laws. In a survey of 108 businesses by executive search firm Korn Ferry, two-thirds said they thought the new laws would do little to change differences in pay, the Washington Post reported.
Equal pay for equal work
Starting in July, Massachusetts employers won’t be allowed to pay employees of different genders lesser amounts for the same jobs. Puerto Rico will enact a similar law in March. They join many other states with similar laws on the books.
The Massachusetts law is considered the strongest in the country, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee the immediate end of women earning less than men for the same work, the Boston Globe reported. However, the new law is designed to create transparency around salaries and the skill levels involved in specific jobs, which could help solve pay gaps in the long run, according to the Globe.
More predictable work schedules
Larger employers (those with 500 or more workers) in Oregon’s retail, hospitality and food services sectors will have to give new hires more specific information about their work schedules and warn employees about upcoming schedule changes starting in July. New York City enacted similar laws for fast food and retail workers starting in November 2017.
The laws are aimed at providing stability to low wage workers, particularly women, who struggle to balance work and family demands when their work hours constantly change. However, one study found that the laws can have unintended consequences: San Francisco employers hired fewer part-time workers after one such law went into effect, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Protections for pregnant workers
In Massachusetts, businesses will be required to accommodate the needs of pregnant women and mothers who need to pump breast milk. In Vermont, employers won’t be allowed to refuse to accommodate employees with pregnancy-related conditions. There are now about 22 states that have laws protecting pregnant workers, Johnson noted. “You have people across party lines coming together and seeing this as a common sense common ground issue, because we all want women to have healthy pregnancies and to be able to provide for their families,” Johnson said.