Today, I look into my crystal ball for 2014. Here's what I see on the horizon:
- Minimum Wage: Raising the minimum wage will be a hot political issue in 2014. We saw some movements in 2013 to make significant increases, and that will continue. Unless something drastic happens in the midterm elections, it's doubtful we'll see anything significant on the national level, but look for more states to increase the minimum wage to the $9-$10 range. Some may go even higher, like Seattle's move toward $15. Raising the minimum wage is great for the economy. Unlike trickle-down economics, it gets money circulating quickly. Henry Ford had the right idea: pay your employees enough so they can buy your products.
- Legalize It: Legalized marijuana will spread to more states, creating some confusion for employers. Can they fire employees who test positive, like Colorado? Or will their state prohibit firings for legal marijuana use like Connecticut, Arizona, Rhode Island, Maine, Colorado and New York? Colorado has a law, as do other states, prohibiting firing/discrimination for legal off-duty activities, so watch for some litigation over this issue there. Look for marijuana growers and sellers to push for laws like tobacco users have in several states protecting them from discrimination at work. In the meantime, medical marijuana users will seek protection under the ADA and other disability discrimination laws.
- Health Care: ObamaCare kicked in and it will change the way we look at health insurance. Sure, it isn't ideal. But when a million or so people who've never had health insurance or who haven't had it in years suddenly can get medical treatment, they'll start to expect to be treated like human beings instead of human waste. From here, we'll be very close to an upheaval in the way we deal with health insurance. This year, we'll see some confusion as the regulations kick in, some stupid employers dumping insurance and cutting people to part-time to avoid paying insurance, but the employer mandates have been delayed until 2015, so most of the stupid employer activity will be at the end of the year and into next year. I say that employers who do this are stupid because they'll ultimately lose good employees. With more people covered, there will be more health care jobs available.
- Internships Cut: With employers under attack for unpaid internship programs that don't actually educate the interns and replace regular employees, some programs will simply disappear. That's not all bad, since the interns-as-slaves programs need to die. We'll see better internship programs cropping up, ones that are truly educational, or paid internships. But most of the new programs will start up after this year. This will be a year of lost programs. We'll also see some attempts to put interns under the protection of discrimination and sexual harassment laws. Some may succeed on the state or local levels, but there's no way that happens on a national level with Congress as it is currently configured.
- Failed Again: Attempts to pass anti-bullying laws and the Civil Rights Tax Fairness Act will fail just like they do every year.
- NLRB and EEOC Cut Off By Courts: NLRB and EEOC will continue to try to expand the protections employees have. Courts will continue to stop them. Still, they'll inch forward with some new progress for employees. Baby steps.
- Lip Service: While the midterm elections kick in, we'll hear lots of big proposals to help employees. Little or nothing will pass due to gridlock. Failures will include the FAMILY Act, Arbitration Fairness Act, and ENDA. However, the fact that each of these bills will be blocked will become fodder to take down some of the more anti-employee members of Congress. Maybe 2015 will see some progress.
- Background Checks: EEOC's efforts to demonstrate that criminal background checks have a disparate impact on blacks have been pretty well crushed so far. However, there will continue to be efforts to ban credit checks. More states will ban or limit use of credit information in hiring. The federal efforts to do so will fail. More states will pass ban-the-box laws barring many inquiries about arrest and conviction records in job applications. There is zero chance such a law will pass on the federal level this election year.
- Pregnancy Discrimination: The issue of whether pregnancy is covered under the Florida Civil Rights Act will be resolved one way or the other by the end of the year. I think the Florida Supreme Court will say it is already covered. If not, then the legislature will pass a fix. The difference will be for all those women caught in between. If the Court doesn't rule for employees, lots of new moms who thought they were covered and sued under state law will be out of luck. Rule wisely, Supremes.
- LGBT Protections: States and local governments will continue to pass discrimination laws banning LGBT discrimination. The feds will fail again, but EEOC will continue to push for application of existing law to LGBT employees.
- Religious Discrimination: Religious employees will push the limits on their ability to proselytize and pray at work. There will be a disconnect between the right to practice religion vs. the right not to be harassed for not sharing a religion and also LGBT rights. Look for right-wing religious groups to push the argument that religious discrimination laws allow them to speak out against gay rights in the workplace. In an election year, we'll see extreme positions pushed on both sides.
Well, that's it for my predictions. I think this year will be one where employees start to wake up to how few rights they have and start to push for more. Major change will come only with a change in Congress.
Donna Ballman is an attorney in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, who represents employees. Her blog Screw you guys, I am going home is an ABA Blawg 100 honoree.