Every two years, Texas businesses hold their collective breath and wait to see what kind of new regulations the Texas legislature will pass that place additional burdens on doing business in this state.
Since the regular session of the 2007 Texas legislature just ended, this is a good time for us to review the new laws that will affect you as an employer. Only a few bills that regulate employers made it through the process to become laws, so you can rest easy until 2009.
Let’s first look at a few of the bills that did not pass, which should give you many reasons to be thankful. Several bills that would have prohibited you from banning concealed handguns on all of your business property, particularly the parking lot, did not pass.
Although the change to the “castle doctrine”, the law that allows a person to use deadly force to protect himself in his home, received lots of press coverage when the legislature extended the law to include deadly force used to protect a citizen in his vehicle and place of employment, it doesn’t change your company’s right to prohibit employees from carrying weapons. This means that you are still free to regulate your own property and protect your employees from possible violence by enforcing a complete on weapons in the workplace.
Bills that would have made a person’s sexual orientation a class that must be protected from employment discrimination failed. This will reduce the number of possible discrimination claims that employees could file against your company.
Several proposals to require certain health conditions to be covered by group health insurance failed to gain any momentum, hopefully preventing any increase in the costs of your already exorbitant medical premiums.
Finally, most of the bills that would have regulated the time off you provide to your employees failed, including time off to attend school activities for children, meetings with teachers, and other family activities. This means that as an employer you can continue to offer your employees the vacations and sick leave that best fits your business and the needs of your particular employees rather than having the legislature dictate their time off.
Here are some of the bills affecting employers that passed both the Texas House of Representatives and Senate and, if signed by the governor, will most likely become enforceable on September 1, 2007:
q A change to the unemployment laws that allows an employee to be paid unemployment compensation if the employee quits his/her job to protect the employee from domestic violence or stalking. While the employee will receive unemployment compensation in a family violence situation, the employer will not be charged back for this compensation, making it a win for both sides.
q A prohibition against employers photographing or videotaping and against re-broadcasting such recordings of employees if the recording was made in areas that should be private, such as workplace restrooms and dressing areas.
q A requirement that employers with 50 or more employees allow emergency responders such as volunteer firefighters, emergency medical services personnel and other volunteers to miss work or be tardy when responding to fires, natural disasters, toxic spills, and other emergencies.
q An expansion of the list of criminal acts for which an employer operating a facility serving the elderly or disabled can screen out a prospective employee, including indecent exposure, aggravated sexual assault, money laundering, cruelty to animals and other crimes.
q The “Restroom Access Act”, which only effects retailers, but requires that the store owner must allow customers with certain certified medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome immediate access to a restroom, even if no public restroom is normally available and the employee restroom has to be used.
Overall, Texas employers were not too badly bruised by the state legislative session. In fact, the recently-enacted statute with the most widespread effect on employers wasn’t even a Texas law. The U.S. Congress passed an increase in the federal minimum wage on May 24, 2007, and it was signed into law by President Bush the next day.
The minimum wage that almost every employer has to pay to its employees will increase from its present rate of $5.15 per hour as follows:
q to $5.85 per hour on July 24, 2007;
q to $6.55 per hour on July 24, 2008;
q to $7.25 per hour on July 24, 2009.
As an employer, you need to assure that your pay practices comply with this federally-mandated increase by the dates above.
You also will have to post a new minimum wage poster on your employee bulletin board. I’ve already seen advertisements from several companies trying to get you to pay $10-$20 for the required poster. If you will wait a few weeks, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division will create and provide a new poster for you to download for free at www.dol.gov.