Start the Year Off Right-What Employers Need to Know in 2007

Marla B. Matthews

January 2007

With the holidays and the start of the new year behind us, businesses are settling back into business as usual. For New Hampshire employers, however, the new year brings with it both new obligations under state employment laws, as well as the promise of proposed changes to come.

On the Federal Front

As predicted, in the initial hours of the new Congress, as one of its first pieces of legislation, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill raising the minimum wage incrementally over 26 months from its current rate of $5.15 per hour to $7.25. This legislation is expected to pass the Senate, but at a somewhat slower pace and perhaps with tax breaks for small businesses and/or some type of health insurance legislation tagged on. Whether or not health insurance legislation is tagged onto this Bill, it will be a big issue to watch in this Congress.

On the State Front

Changes Effective January 1, 2007

Reasonable Accommodations for Employees with Disabilities (RSA 354-A:7)
Effective January 1, 2007, it is an unlawful discriminatory practice under the New Hampshire Law Against Discrimination for most employers with six or more employees not to make reasonable accommodations for the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified applicant or employee with a disability, unless such employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.

Additionally, state law prohibits an employer from denying employment opportunities, compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment to any qualified disabled applicant or employee if the denial is based on the need for the employer to make a reasonable accommodation to the physical or mental impairment(s) of the applicant/employee.

These added provisions to the state Law Against Discrimination bring it more closely in line with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, unlike the ADA which only applies to employers with 15 or more employees, the state law applies to employers with six employees, increasing the number of employers within the state who may have an obligation to make reasonable accommodations. Note, however, that certain employers are exempt from the state Law Against Discrimination, including social clubs, fraternal or religious associations and corporations not organized for profit.

Civil Penalties Increased (RSA 275-A:5)
Employers now run the risk of being assessed a civil penalty of up to $2,500 for each day of noncompliance with any provision of the state Citizens Job Protection Act (RSA 275-A), an act that prohibits employers from, among other things, knowingly employing aliens not authorized to work in the United States and from employing professional strike breakers.

Other Recent Changes

Authorized Leave for First Responders (RSA 275:66)
Employers must allow members of a fire department, rescue squad, or emergency medical services agency who have been called into service for the state or a political subdivision during a declared state of emergency to take leave without pay in order to respond to the emergency. Employers may allow, but cannot require, these employees to use vacation or other accrued leave during the period of emergency service.

Proposed Legislation for Employers to Watch

Similar to last year, it is expected that the 2007 legislative session will see an increase in proposed laws that are directed at the workplace and the employer/employee relationship. Below are some of the bills that have already been introduced in either the House or the Senate that will affect New Hampshire employers if they are enacted.

HB99 – relative to youth employment law
In addition to the day/hour restrictions already placed on the employment of 16 and 17 year old employees under RSA 276-A, VI, House Bill 99, if enacted, would prohibit 16 and 17 year old employees from working later than 9:00 PM on any night preceding a school day.

HB81 – relative to required pay for employees called in to work
As proposed, House Bill 81 would increase the required number of hours an employer must pay an employee on any day the employee reports to work at the employer’s request from two hours to four hours, absent an alternative arrangement between the employer and the employee. If enacted in its present form, this Bill would not apply to various categories of employees, such as county or municipal employees, public safety employees, in-home or visiting heath care employees, part-time agricultural employees and employees whose contract specifies hours of work or duration.

This bill is similar to legislation that was introduced during the 2006 session and was found to be inexpedient to legislate. It has been reintroduced for the 2007 session with minor changes, including an expanded list of categorically exempted employees.

For more information about these recent changes and proposed legislation and their potential impact on your business, please contact us.