By JIM KENDALL
This material originally appeared as one of Jim’s Daily Herald columns
Remember the U.S. Department of Labor’s initiative that would have changed overtime rules – and costs – last month if a federal judge in Texas had not halted implementation in late November?
Although either a final court review or action from the Trump administration could kill the DOL initiative, attorney Jennifer Adams Murphy says the process so far may have saved small businesses from legal difficulties.
“Many employers discovered they were not in compliance with existing (overtime) classification regulations when they sought counsel as to the DOL changes,” Murphy emailed when I asked her about potential 2017 legal trouble spots.
“Misclassification is a very costly mistake (with class action exposure) that can usually be avoided.”
Murphy is senior attorney and a shareholder at Wessel Sherman’s St. Charles office. The classification issue – new rules or old – has to do with which employees are, or are not, eligible for overtime pay.
Overtime isn’t the only issue Murphy thinks could trip employers. Among the others:
* Sick leave. A new Illinois law effective January 1 requires that employers allow employees to use sick leave time not only for their own illnesses but also to care for their children, spouse, siblings, parents, in-laws, grandchildren, grandparents and stepparents.
In addition, both Cook County and the City of Chicago passed ordinances, effective July 7, that require employees to be allowed to accrue paid sick leave beginning on the first day of employment at the rate of one hour for every 40 hours worked.
There is an annual cap and some carryover of unused hours.
Don’t ignore the sick leave accrual issue if your business is outside Cook or Chicago. “These laws may apply to employers located outside (Cook County or Chicago) with employees working in those areas for at least two hours in every two-week period, Murphy wrote.
* VESSA. The Victim’s Economic Security and Safety Act requires that employers provide unpaid leave to employees who are victims of domestic or sexual abuse. Effective January 1, even employers with only one employee are subject to VESSA.
Businesses with up to 14 employees must allow employees covered by VESSA up to four weeks of unpaid leave to handle VESSA issues, Murphy emailed. Employers with 15-49 employees must allow eight weeks of leave; those with 50 or more employees must allow 12 weeks.
* Employee privacy. The Illinois legislature clarified employees’ right to privacy pertaining to their personal online accounts. Among other points, Murphy noted, employers cannot require that an employee “access a personal online account in the presence of the employer” and cannot require an employee to join an online account established by the employer or require that an employee add the employer as a contact to the employee’s online account or to a group affiliated with an employee’s online account.
With some restrictions, the changes do not limit an employer’s right to monitor an employee’s use of its email accounts and electronic devices.
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