Essential actions for Massachusetts employers: a 2019 checklist.

 
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Byline: Christina L. Lewis

2018 was a landmark year for employment law in Massachusetts and 2019 is already shaping up to be a busy one for human resources teams, employment attorneys, and all those who are responsible for establishing and communicating workplace policies.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a major wage and benefits bill that will gradually increase the regular hourly minimum wage to $15. The same law also implements a mandatory paid leave program that allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a family member or bond with a new child, and take up to 20 weeks to address personal medical issues.

In addition, an updated equal pay law and new restrictions on noncompete agreements also took effect last year. Together, these changes will impact employees from the Berkshires to Boston.

The time is now for employers to develop an action plan to ensure their employee policies are aligned with changes in the law. Here are four essential actions to consider.

Update employee handbooks and policies

Due to these significant legal changes, employers should proactively update employee handbooks, offer letters, contracts and other workplace policies. When doing so, employers must consider how these changes fit within the broader context of federal laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, plus existing state laws, such as those concerning earned sick time and family leave.

These laws all work in conjunction with one another. For employers, especially those with workers in multiple states, establishing policies that follow one law without violating another can feel like solving a Rubik's Cube. For this reason, it's critical to take the time to discuss policy changes and make updates accordingly.

Communicate payroll changes openly

Massachusetts' new law concerning minimum wage and paid leave will require payroll changes in 2019 and beyond. In fact, minimum wage increases are already in effect. Starting Jan. 1, 2019, the regular hourly minimum wage has increased from $11 to $12. Under the new law, it will continue to increase annually, ultimately reaching $15 in 2023.

Payroll changes resulting from the paid leave law, on the other hand, will not be as straightforward. Starting July 1, 2019, all Massachusetts employers with 25 or more Massachusetts-based employees will be required to contribute an amount equal to 0.63 percent of each employee's wages to the Family and Employment Security Trust Fund. Employers will...

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