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Washington Times

Happy New Year? Blue states to start 2024 with a bunch of new business regulations

By December 29, 2023No Comments

(This column originally appeared in The Washington Times)


I’m not sure 2024 will be a very happy new year for businesses in blue states. Not only are they — like the rest of us — dealing with a slowing economy, sticky inflation, labor shortages and a host of federal regulations, but they’re also facing a bunch of new and proposed local laws that will create lots of headaches for them.

In New York state, a wage transparency law went into effect in September that requires employers with four or more employees to disclose in their job advertisements a full job description, the minimum and maximum annual salary or hourly wage, and whether the job is commission-based.

Since July, employers that are served by New York City’s transit system are paying more taxes for the privilege. City employers who want to use artificial intelligence tools to assist them with hiring face new requirements.

They are also now prohibited from hiring or firing workers even if their height or weight precludes them from doing the task assigned. Employers based in both the state and city must also deal with recent and proposed overtime pay rules, which already exceed what’s being proposed by the Department of Labor.

If you want to make it there — as a cosmetologist, in this instance — you can definitely make it anywhere. That’s because New York state is making it even tougher, with stringent new mandates for getting educated and tested to accommodate “individuals with all hair types and textures, including, but not limited to, various curl or wave patterns, hair strand thicknesses, and volumes of hair.”

And a mandate goes into effect that requires restaurant chains that own 15 or more locations to add sugar labels to their food and drink offerings if they exceed the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended guidelines.

New Yorkers also face new mandates to give paid leave for bereaved employees, potential restrictions on using noncompete agreements, an increase in “tipped” minimum wages, and — maybe — a statewide single-payer health system paid for with … well, I’m sure we’ll find out.

Across the Hudson, lawmakers in neighboring New Jersey are moving forward with a bill that will require more small businesses (those with more than five employees) to provide job-protected family leave (previously, the cutoff was 30 employees).

The state has also recently implemented a “Workplace Accountability in Labor” list, a public shaming of businesses to hold them “accountable for failing to satisfy their outstanding liabilities to the state for violations of state wage, benefit and tax laws. Examples of outstanding liabilities include unpaid wages due to workers, unemployment insurance contributions due to the state, or worker’s compensation penalties.”

Any business whose name appears is prohibited from public contracting with the state and barred from attending any Bruce Springsteen concert.

My state, Pennsylvania, isn’t as bad as New York or New Jersey. But employers here in the new year will have to fund unemployment benefits for striking workers. They may also face a new paid family and medical leave program that would be funded through payroll contributions.

In Massachusetts, employees can now extend their paid leave with accrued vacation, wealthy business owners making more than $1 million a year face a 4% tax surcharge on their earnings, and as if that were not enough, the state is testing a four-day workweek program that would “provide businesses with tax credits for participating in a pilot program encouraging employees to work 32 hours per week without a loss in pay or benefits” because I’m sure that will make up for the lost hours and productivity.

People hiring domestic workers in the District of Columbia are already dealing with a law enacted this year that requires them to officially engage them as independent contractors, complete with a mandated service contract. Like some other places mentioned here, tipped minimum wages are going away in D.C., meaning employers will have to pay a higher minimum wage for tipped workers.

And for restaurants that tack on other service fees, disclosure is now required. I’m OK with that, because adding “service fees” on a check instead of just baking in the added cost by slightly raising prices is stupid.

In Illinois, the relationship between businesses and freelancers is coming under state control. That will happen in July when the Freelance Worker Protection Act takes effect and will require payment and contract requirements on entities that retain the services of freelance workers in exchange for $500 or more.

Businesses in Chicago will no longer be able to pay the lower “tipped” minimum wage starting this year. More headaches will also ensue when Chicago’s paid sick and paid leave entitlement takes effect.

The regulation, applicable to any employer with at least one employee (including employees performing as little as two hours of work within the city limits in a two-week period), will require more paperwork and accounting thanks to its multiple categories for mandated paid time off and also make it harder for employers to require documentation and reasons for their workers’ paid leave.

Across the country, California’s businesses will see required overtime wages well in excess of the federal Department of Labor’s proposals, a mandated expansion of paid sick leave from three to five days, a required $20 hourly minimum wage for fast-food workers, expanded restrictions on noncompete agreements and required training for workplace violence protection.

Like New York state, California is also contemplating its own single-payer health care system, with funding sources unknown at the moment. I’m betting there may be a tax or two involved, no?

Why are these states often referred to as blue states? It probably has something to do with the mood of those poor business owners who have the misfortune of being based there.

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