Published in the Portsmouth Herald
The New Hampshire Legislature has been at work with scores of new bills introduced in recent months. As committees conduct hearings on the bills, it becomes clear that a number of the proposed laws could have significant workplace impact. This article addresses some of the discussion in Concord these days related to the workplace and employment. It should be noted that all of these bills are pending – they can be modified or retired during the legislative process. Employers should take notice of what is being proposed and contact their legislators to express their thoughts and concerns as the process continues this session.
Union Dues and Don’ts
There are two bills pending which have the potential to impact unions significantly. HB 1163 would repeal RSA 275:48, I(b)(1), effectively prohibiting employers from withholding union dues from wages even if the employees agreed to the deduction. Unions would be required to collect dues directly by check or otherwise.
HB 1677-FN, the “Employee Freedom of Choice Act” is another stab at getting so-called “right to work” legislation passed after the Governor’s veto of a similar law narrowly survived an override vote. The statute would support the right of employees to refrain from joining a union, would prohibit voluntary deductions from pay for union dues, and would amend RSA 273-A:3 by adding a provision that a public employee labor organization shall not be required to represent employees who elect not to join or pay dues or fees to the organization. Any collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the union would apply only to those employees who are members of, or who elect to pay dues or fees to, the union. This bill, which is currently in committee, is detailed and is likely to be at the forefront of legislation being considered.
Wage and Hour Woes
One bill unlikely to gain much traction is HB 1574 which seeks to eliminate the requirement that employers grant a thirty minute lunch or eating period after an employee has worked five consecutive hours. Despite its limited staying power, the bill does demonstrate the continued trend in Concord of attempts to roll back employee protective legislation.
SB 341, which is more likely to get positive attention, authorizes mandatory electronic payment of payroll. The bill deletes portions of RSA 275:43, I(e) which requires employers to offer live payroll checks to employees who request them.
On the other side of the aisle, HB 1323 would require employers who offer benefits to full-time employees to offer them on a pro-rated basis to part-time employees. This includes all types of benefits, including insurance, retirement, and paid leave. The requirement would not apply to seasonal or temporary employees.
The Non-Competition Dilemma
Although not as aggressive as legislation being proposed in Massachusetts, HB 1270 would require every employer, prior to or concurrent with making an offer of employment, to provide a copy of any non-competition or non-piracy agreement to the employee who is being asked to sign it. The bill provides that any contract not in compliance would be void and unenforceable. One would expect in light of case law on the enforceability of non-competition agreements that most employers already do this.
To Have or Not to Have a Safety Committee
There are two proposed laws which seek to amend the safety plan and committee requirements in the state’s worker’s compensation laws. HB 1587 is intended to minimize the burdens of safety plans and programs on smaller employers. It would increase the threshold number of employees from 10 to 15 for summary safety plans and from 5 to 15 full-time employees before an employer had to have a joint loss safety committee.
Garnishing Wages for Unemployment
There are several pending bills relating to unemployment insurance. HB 1579 authorizes the garnishing of wages of individuals who are delinquent in repaying unemployment compensation overpayments. Priority is given to amounts the employer is obligated to withhold for child or spousal support pursuant to RSA 458-B. Employers may be subject to an administrative fine for noncompliance or be found guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $1,000 for discharging, refusing to employ, or taking any disciplinary action against an individual debtor because of the garnishment. This bill was requested by the department of employment security. With hearings occurring daily, the status of these pending bills changes frequently. Anyone with an interest is able to check the state’s website at www.gencourt.state.nh.us, enter the bill number and obtain the latest information. It pays to be informed before action is taken which can affect your workplace for years to come.