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Checklist for a Happy New Year: Employment Law

Sun December 1, 2019 Publications

EMPLOYMENT CONTRACTS. Old contracts are like old underwear—need I say more? Sometimes, our clients get so comfortable reusing old contracts and forms, that they do not notice the insufficient coverage until it is too late. Aside from changes to the law—and there are often real changes that implicate employment contracts—people tend to repurpose these documents for a myriad of scenarios for which they were never intended. Cut, copy, paste, and edit and after a few years, our client has created a Frankenstein—a mumbling monstrosity that must be destroyed. The new year is a perfect time to break this habit and commit to a review and update of employment contracts and forms (really, all internally edited business contracts and forms).

PERSONNEL POLICIES. Now is also the time to review and update employee handbooks and personnel policies. While every employer may not need a full-blown employee handbook, some policies are important to all employers.

  • A strong, up-to-date policy against discrimination and harassment in the workplace can provide an affirmative defense against harassment claims. While the federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment generally apply only to employers with 15 or more employees, there are other similar laws (and municipal ordinances in Gainesville and Alachua County) which apply to smaller employers.
  • A clear, written and enforced policy on hours of work (with provisions on recording time, working overtime, and penalties for violation) is an important tool to avoiding hourly wage disputes.
  • A communicated, written plan establishing an “initial employment probationary period” allows an employer to avoid liability for unemployment compensation paid to an employee who is discharged within the first 90 days of employment. The initial probationary period plan must apply to all employees or a specific group of employees and not exceed 90 calendar days (not three months as many policies state), and the employee must be so informed within the first 7 days of work. While a discharged employee may still be entitled to receive benefits, an employer who can show it has a plan and that the employee was so notified, will not be charged.

WAGES. Effective January 1, 2020, there are two significant wage-related changes that Florida employers need to incorporate into their pay practices.

  • State minimum wage will rise from $8.46 to $8.56 per hour, an increase calculated on September 30, 2019 based on the CPI for the immediately preceding 12-months. For tipped employees, the new minimum wage is $5.54 per hour plus tips which together must equal at least $8.56 per hour. The tipped minimum wage is calculated by subtracting the federal tip credit of $3.02, set in 2003, from the higher of federal or the applicable state minimum wage, here $8.56. The federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 per hour since 2009, though 29 states have set their minimum wage higher than the federal rate and 14 of those states have a minimum hourly wage of $10 or more.
  • The minimum salary threshold for exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act will increase from $455 to $684 per week, but will now allow employers a limited credit of certain non-discretionary payments. This change in expected to expand overtime pay obligations to 1.3 million more workers.

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