2017 Industry Forecast: Legal Services

January 5, 2017

Published in Business NH Magazine (January 2017)

It is always challenging to predict what the most significant workplace issues of a new year.  Six months ago employment lawyers were focused on increased scrutiny of pay practices by state and federal departments of labor and a continued focus on the areas identified by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) for special consideration between now and 2021: eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring, protecting vulnerable workers, addressing emerging issues such as independent contractors and LGBTQ discrimination, pay equity,  and eliminating systemic harassment.

With a new Presidential administration and a change in leadership in New Hampshire, we can expect some changes, but change comes slowly. 

President-Elect Trump campaigned on a number of proposals which could have significant effects on employers. The following are some of the top areas on which to focus:

Minimum Wage: An increase of the federal minimum wage to $10.00 per hour (up from the current $7.25).  New Hampshire currently follows the federal minimum so such an increase would impact New Hampshire workers.  Even without federal legislation, we can expect state legislation to be filed although it would not likely be supported by the Republican legislature and governor. 

Paid Leave for New Mothers: Ivanka Trump’s proposal to provide six weeks of paid maternity leave. The plan calls for providing new mothers with temporary benefits through the unemployment insurance system rather than from employers. The plan does not appear to make any provision for new fathers, and it is unclear as to whether the proposed benefits will be available in cases of adoption and surrogacy.

Some states have adopted, and New Hampshire is considering, paid family leave insurance as a means of encouraging young families to remain here. 

Child Care: The President-Elect has also promised to help workers deal with the high cost of child care with an “above-the-line” deduction and tax-exempt dependent care savings accounts, into which parents could deposit up to $2,000 per year. This savings account proposal also calls for the government to provide a 50% match on the first $1,000 of contributions for qualifying low-income parents. Finally, President-Elect Trump is calling for adding greater incentives, in the form of tax credits, for employers to offer on-site child care.

Healthcare: The pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. No proposed replacement has been identified. Some of the more popular aspects of the Act—protections for people with pre-existing conditions and extended coverage for young adults under their parents’ plans—are likely to be retained. Other changes will be hotly debated, and closely watched by employers. 

Overtime: The new overtime rule—which raises the FLSA’s minimum salary level for exempt employees to $47,476 per year—was to have gone into effect on December 1, 2016.  At the eleventh hour a Texas federal judge issued an injunction preventing the change from going into effect. The President-Elect did not actively campaign against the changes but did say that he would like to see a “carve out” exempting small businesses. There is still much uncertainty regarding the future of the white collar exemptions. 

Workplace Flexibility:  With the continued increase in single parent or dual-working parent households, the desire for flexible work schedules has also increased.  Successful business will adapt and benefit from employees working at different times and places.  Businesses must focus more closely on information security in order to protect vital assets and private information, but more flexibility will allow employers to retain talented and productive workers. 

Regardless of who is in the White House or State House, the American workforce has changed, as have the needs of businesses.  A global economy and more sophisticated workers call for new solutions.  Although the newly elected officials are touting a plan to reduce regulation, businesses should not expect the state and federal agencies charged with protecting workers to back off on enforcing laws which have been put in place over the last five decades.