The new year is putting a new focus on employees in many states.
Under a host of new laws that will go into effect in 2019, states are taking it upon themselves to change employees’ lives, from how much they earn, to their comfort and security in the workplace, to their ability to plan for their futures.
A handful of states have increased the minimum wage to between $12 and $15, and others have implemented regulations that focus on preventing sexual harassment, saving for retirement and fostering a more gender-diverse work environment.
“With the Trump administration and Republican Congress, it’s been states driving progress and innovation,” said Paul Sonn, state policy director at the New York-based nonprofit National Employment Law Project, a liberal-leaning think tank that advocates for workers’ rights.
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Here are some laws that went into effect on Jan. 1, and other legislation expected later this year:
Increasing minimum wage
Nineteen states and 21 cities and counties increased their minimum wage in January, with many raising it to $15 an hour. Another 21 jurisdictions will raise pay by the end of the year, according to the National Employment Law Project.
States that increased minimum wage at the beginning of the year include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Washington.
“Cost of living data shows $15 an hour is what single workers in all 50 states need to afford the basics, and that’s what they need in even low-cost states like Texas and Florida,” Sonn said. “This will put thousands more in the pockets of struggling workers who right now are often going into debt and just aren’t able to afford the basics.”
See also: This is how many million U.S. workers will get a pay raise in the new year
Attracting more workers
Vermont began its Remote Worker Grant Program, which reimburses workers who move to Vermont for expenses including relocation costs, computer software and broadband access. The program pays remote workers up to $5,000 every year, up to a total of $10,000, when they move to the state. Lawmakers created the program to help reverse the trend of an aging and declining population and to draw more tech workers.
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No perks for some fired government workers
Illinois passed a law that bans government employees fired for misconduct from cashing in on severance pay. As part of Senate Bill 3604, misconduct refers to deliberate or careless actions that harm others or go against employer standards of behavior. It also includes chronic absenteeism, tardiness and criminal assault on another employee or customer. The law affects all government workers, as well as those who work for state colleges and universities and school districts. Under the law, any government worker fired for misconduct wouldn’t be allowed to collect any severance pay.
Thwarting sexual harassment
A California law that went into effect on Jan. 1 prohibits secret settlement agreements pertaining to sexual harassment or sex discrimination. The legislation, which applies to public and private employers, allows victims to stay anonymous if they want to remain out of the public eye, but allows victims to pursue civil action.
The #MeToo movement, originally sparked by high-profile cases of sexual misconduct in Hollywood, quickly spread to other industries and has changed America’s workplaces. Companies and policymakers are looking for solutions, Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, told MarketWatch last year. “We’ve worked with so many more state legislators in 2018 on the issue of harassment in the workplace than we had in years and years before that,” she said.
California has also become the first state to require some company boards to have at least one female member. Any publicly traded company with headquarters in the state must have one woman board member by the end of 2019 and, by 2021, companies with at least five directors need to have two or three female directors, depending on the size of the board.
Also see: Sheryl Sandberg thinks the workplace is ‘rigged’ against women — but these steps could fix that
An eye on retirement
A retirement crisis is looming in the country. Americans are not saving enough for their futures and in many cases, don’t have access to a workplace retirement account to start. States have taken it upon themselves to implement retirement plans, and in some cases, require companies to offer a retirement plan if they have no alternatives in place. California’s program, called CalSavers, will open to all eligible workers this July. Oregon was the first state to implement its state-sponsored retirement program, and Illinois has also started its own program. More states are expected to implement or propose similar legislation in the coming years.
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