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Keeping Up with State Workplace Laws

Keeping Up with State Workplace Laws

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: May 16, 2017

If you have even one employee, you may be impacted by law changes occurring at your state or local level. Small business owners want to do the best they can for their workers, but often cost limits how generous they can be when it comes to pay and benefits. Nonetheless the law may require certain pay and benefits, and it’s up to employers to stay alert to these changes and budget accordingly.

Minimum wage laws

The basic federal minimum wage in most cases is $7.25 per hour. However, if your state has a higher hourly rate, you must use the state’s rate. A number of states change their rates annually, through new laws or cost-of-living adjustments. Find your state’s minimum wage rates through the U.S. Department of Labor.

Monitor changes in these rates, which may occur on January 1, July 1, or some other date. For example, on July 1, 2017, the minimum wage rate for Oregon increases to $10.25 per hour, up from $9.75 per hour for the first half of 2017.

Also, check for minimum wage rates set by cities, which may be higher than the rates for the states. Generally, the higher minimum wage rates apply only in some major cities. Examples of hourly rates in 2017 (not a complete list):

  • New York City, NY: $10.50 for 10 or fewer employees; $11.00 for 11 or more employees
  • Portland, OR: $11.25 starting July 1, 2017
  • San Francisco, CA: $14 starting July 1, 2017
  • Seattle, WA (for 500 or fewer employees): $11.00

Different rates may apply to tipped employees.

Leave time

There is no federal law requiring any paid leave time for employees for sickness, childbirth, or family emergencies. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) merely requires companies with 50 or more employees to give up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for birth, adoption, or medical care of a spouse or family member. However, a growing number of states have their own laws on leave time. If state law is more expansive, then it applies. You’ll have to look carefully at the laws in your state to determine:

  • Whether they apply to your company. For example, some only apply if you have more than 100 employees. Others apply to all private employers.
  • What you have to do. For example, some require withholding from employees’ paychecks to fund paid leave.

Paid time off.  Some states have initiated payroll withholding programs to fund paid time off, which means that employees and not employers pay for the benefit. A handful of states—California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Vermont—currently require paid sick leave for workers who have been on the job for a certain amount of time. Some states-- California, New Jersey, New York (effective January 1, 2018), and Rhode Island—also mandate paid family leave time (similar to the FLMA but with pay).

Unpaid time off.  Even if leave time is not paid, there are a growing number of states that mandate time off for certain purposes. For example, Maine requires companies with 15 or more employees to give up to 10 weeks in 2 years for the birth or adoption of a child and for being an organ donor. Some states also require unpaid time off for parents to attend school-related functions. This leave time is a certain number of hours to allow parents to participate in a child’s educational activities.

Other workplace laws

There are other workplace laws that may impact you, including:

  • Minimum paid rest periods in some states
  • Meal period requirements in some states


As a small business owner, how can you possibly keep up with changes in workplace laws and run your business at the same time? A big challenge, yes, but it’s something you can’t avoid. Your state labor office can help you monitor changes. You may want to work with a payroll company offering HR functions that can apprise you of changes you need to know.

About the Author:

Barbara Weltman

Guest Blogger

Barbara Weltman is an attorney, prolific author with such titles as J.K. Lasser's Small Business Taxes, J.K. Lasser's Guide to Self-Employment, and Smooth Failing as well as a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® and host of Build Your Business Radio. She has been included in the List of 100 Small Business Influencers for three years in a row. Follow her on Twitter: @BarbaraWeltman or at