How the Upcoming Elections Can Impact Your Workplace

October 15, 2018

With the Congressional midterm elections looming, issues that could have residual effects on the workplace will be considered and voted upon by some of your own employees. While many measures are put on the ballot by states to drive voter turnout, they can still be lofty enough to impact your company’s annual initiatives, or even day-to-day policies. According to Alexander Passantino, a Washington, D.C. attorney with Seyfarth Shaw, “It’s actually a fairly quiet election for employment-related ballot initiatives. There were a couple [workplace ballot measures in elections] earlier in the year and state legislatures have stayed busy enacting employment-related legislation, but Nov. 6 will feature only a handful of workplace ballot initiatives.” While the beliefs and demographics of your employee base will drive the impact on your organization, it is important to be cognizant of the issues that will dominate the election season.

Transgender Rights and Anti-Discrimination

The state of Massachusetts will consider whether to repeal the state’s Transgender Anti-Discrimination Law, which just went into effect on Oct. 1. The law bans discrimination against transgender people in public places and facilities, such as bathrooms, and allows transgender individuals to use these facilities based on their assumed gender identity rather than their assigned sex. However, this state law is an extension of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law that prohibits employers from engaging in or condoning any type of sex discrimination.

The impact of this ballot initiative could be far-reaching when considering employers’ relationships with customers who identify as or support transgender individuals, Amy Traub, a New York City-based attorney with BakerHostetler, comments, “Businesses that own and operate a public place of accommodation, such as a hotel or members club, will need to monitor the results of this ballot question before changing any policies related to their public facilities.”

Legalization of Marijuana

Five states have ballot measures considering the legalized use of medical or recreational marijuana—Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah. This popular trend can have significant implications for employers, said Traub, such as the legal protections offered for workers who use marijuana for a covered disability.

If the ballot measure passes in a state where your company operates or resides, employers should consider what legalization would mean for workplace drug testing and zero-tolerance policies, Passantino notes. When implementing drug testing programs and/or policies, employers need to consult federal and state laws, as well as the norms of their industries before making any determinations.

Minimum Wage Pay

Arkansas and Missouri will have a ballot measure regarding whether or not to raise the minimum wage with Arkansas’ being a potential increase from $8.50 to $11 over three years, and Missouri’s being an incremental raise each year from $7.85 to $12 by 2023, as well as a proposal in Missouri to increase the penalties for noncompliance.

Since there has been a documented trend and concerted effort in raising the minimum wage for many years, Shawn Butte, another attorney with BakerHostetler in New York City, recommends that employers across the country take this time to affirm that they are meeting their state and local minimum-wage requirements and re-examine their budgets to account for potential changes that could happen in the future.

Whether or not the ballot measures affect your company directly, these three topics are very important to think about in the event that there are federal implications or if they come up on your state’s ballot in election years to come. If you are in one of the states listed, consider revisiting your local laws to see if your state requires your company to provide time off for employees to go to the polls this November, or if you have employees who are part of a collective bargaining unit or agreement.