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New HR Rules in 2019


By Shannon Massena, Director of HR  

As ever, the beginning of the year heralds a host of new state HR laws and regulations. The Golden State of California is leading the charge with changes to diversity and harassment legislation, while Arizona recently passed a new mini-COBRA law. Minimum wage increases have shot up across the board. At a federal level, you’ll notice changes to H-2B visas, joint employment, and overtime rules, to name a few. While we explore just some of the new federal and state details below, bear in mind that there are also likely to be city regulations that may affect you. Fear not, wherever you’re based Optima Office is here to help you navigate the complex HR landscape.


Federal Level HR Regulations

  • H-2B Visas

Changes made to laws surrounding H-2B visas last year will spill over into 2019, possibly with further updates. Let’s recap.

    • Mar 2018: President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018’, which took the cap on H-2B visas from 66,000 to 129,547.
    • Nov 2018: The Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Dept. of Labor (DOL) announced a new rule that “would modernize the recruitment requirements for employers seeking H-2B non-immigrant workers to make it easier for U.S. workers to find and fill these open jobs.” The new rule required electronic ads to be posted online for a minimum of 14 days, replacing the print ads currently required under previous regulations.
    • Dec 2018: The U.S. Customs and Immigrations Service (USCIS) announced that the number of applications for H-2B visas had surpassed the amount available for the first half of 2019. Therefore, the H-2B visa program had already reached its newly increased capacity by the beginning of the new year.

If you’re an employer who relies heavily on H-2B visas you’re probably praying that 2019 brings another round of cap increases. Whatever happens, the best advice we can give you is to stay up to date on compliance.

  • White-Collar Minimum Wage Increase

This year we’re likely to see an increase in the federal minimum wage for white-collar administrative workers after a proposed raise from $23,660 to $47,476 was successfully challenged in court in 2016. The new raise is under review so keep your ears pricked for announcements in early 2019.  

  • Redefining Joint Employment and Overtime

New regulations surrounding the definition of joint employment and overtime are predicted to emerge around March. The new rules are expected to make it harder for an employer to be determined a ‘joint employer’ under FLSA. It’s also expected that employers will be given flexibility when interpreting and imposing overtime rules.

  • Standard Mileage Rates

Since Jan 2019, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car, van, pickup or truck for business purposes have changed to:

  • 58 cents per mile driven for business use (up 3.5 cents on 2018)
  • 20 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes (up 2 cents from 2018)
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of a charitable organization (no change on the previous year)


New HR Regulations in Arizona

  • Minimum Wage Increases: In line with increases across the country, Arizona’s minimum wage went up from $10.50 per hour to $11.00 per hour on January 1, 2019. The plan is to boost that minimum wage once again to $12 per hour by 2020.
  • Mini-COBRA: Arizona has joined many other states with passing a new law for mini-COBRA. Not all information is available as yet, but we do know that all small employers (1-20 employees) who weren’t previously required to offer COBRA will now be required to offer mini-COBRA. This is in effect for all newly implemented plans and existing plans renewed after December 31, 2018.


New HR Regulations in California

In addition to minimum wage increases, California has passed (or is in the process of passing) additional local laws that will further affect you as an employer.

  • Minimum Wage Increases: A second round of minimum wage increases has come into effect. California companies with 26 or more employees are now paying $12 per hour and those with 25 or fewer will pay $11 per hour. This is part of a three-step plan to increase the minimum wage statewide to $15 per hour by 2022 (2023 for smaller businesses).  
  • Increasing Diversity at Board Level: If your company is traded publicly, you’re now required to appoint at least one female director to the board by the close of 2019. For businesses with four directors, that means at least one woman, those with five directors must have two, and any with six must have three by end of 2021.
  • Sexual Harassment Training: New sexual harassment legislation means that provisions in a settlement or contract that prohibits someone from testifying about sexual harassment in an administrative or judicial proceeding are disallowed. The definition has been expanded to include working relationships with producers, directors, and lobbyists. It also allows the claimant to be excluded from the publicly accessible settlement agreement where facts would reveal the identification of the claimant. In addition, employers are now prohibited from conditioning a raise, bonus, or continued employment on an employee signing a release on a claim of harassment by nonemployees for which the employer may have liability. The new law also tightens the rules on harassment, making it easier for employees to pursue harassment claims.
  • Anti-harassment Training: If your business has five or more employees, you’re now required to provide a minimum of two hours of training to supervisors and one hour to employees before 2020, and every year following.
  • Human Trafficking Training: Do you run a business in the transport and hotel industry? Contact us to find out if state law requires you to give employees training on how to spot and report signs of human trafficking.
  • Criminal Conviction History: The rules surrounding an employers’ rights to ask an applicant about his or her criminal conviction history have tightened. Where knowledge of an employee’s criminal history is relevant for security reasons, you’re now limited to being able to ask them about a relevant ‘particular conviction’.


Paid Leave Update Elsewhere

Washington has now joined California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York by enacting paid family leave law, as signed on July 5, 2018 by Governor Jay Inslee. The new law requires employers and employees to pay a 0.4% payroll tax into an insurance fund. Payments began on January 1, 2019, although benefits will not become available until January 1, 2020.  

Washington employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the employer portion of the premiums, while companies with up to 150 employees can apply for a grant to offset wage costs while an employee is on leave. They can also opt out of the state-run program if they have a comparable plan and pay a $250 fee to the Employment Security Department.

Here’s what the new paid leave deal in Washington looks like:

  • 12 weeks of family or medical leave
  • 14 weeks of family or medical leave if your employee experiences a pregnancy-related serious, incapacitating health condition
  • 16 weeks of combined family and medical leave
  • 18 weeks of family and medical leave if your employee experiences a pregnancy-related serious, incapacitating health condition

For more details about waivers, waiting periods, funding and benefits, get in touch with our HR team today.


Fortune Favors the Prepared

Regardless of your state, it’s likely that as an employer in 2019 you’ll encounter new notice requirements and laws that dictate your relationship with employees. Navigating these issues with HR managers and directors with senior level expertise (no compliance  police here) gives you the peace of mind that comes from partnering with a trusted advisor who not only understand the laws most pertinent to your business, but who also finds ways to help you protect your culture and long term vision.

Think of us as mitigation experts. Together we’ll identify and address those HR areas that pose significant financial risk, be it discriminatory wage levels, classification of workers, or any of the above issues.  

If you have any questions concerning the latest changes to HR law, contact us today to schedule your HR review.


DISCLAIMER – Due to the daily changing environment and guidelines being provided by the government, this information could be outdated. Please contact our office for the latest updates and guidelines. Optima Office is not responsible for any actions taken due to the information provided. The information provided here is for instructional purposes and does not represent legal advice being given by Optima Office.


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