2015 Elections — Roundup of Employment-Related Ballot Initiatives

Local governments or voters often pass statutes or ordinances on employment-related subjects that require employers to ensure that their policies are compliant not just on a state-by-state basis, but even on a city-by-city or county-by-county basis within the same state. During this past week’s election, voters around the country considered a number of local employment-related ballot initiatives, some noteworthy examples of which are below:

Voters in Elizabethtown, New Jersey Approve Paid Sick Leave

Elizabethtown, New Jersey joins a number of other cities (including several in New Jersey) in enacting a paid sick leave ordinance. Voters approved a measure that requires employers to offer one hour of paid sick time to employees for each 30 hours worked.

Voters in Houston, Texas Reject Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Many cities have enacted local anti-discrimination ordinances which complement or mirror anti-discrimination statutes under state and federal law. In May 2014, the Houston city council passed an ordinance that would have banned discrimination based on characteristics already protected by federal law (such as age, sex and race), as well as sexual orientation and gender identity, which are not characteristics protected by federal law. In last week’s election, Houston voters rejected the ordinance.  Opponents of the ordinance had labelled it the “bathroom ordinance” and claimed that its provisions concerning transgender people would enable men who wear women’s clothes – and sexual predators – to access public women’s restrooms.

Minimum Wage Measures in Portland, Maine and Tacoma, Washington

Voters in Tacoma, Washington supported a phased-in increase to the city’s minimum wage to $12 by 2018, but rejected a more ambitious increase that would have immediately raised it to $15. Similarly, voters in Portland, Maine rejected a measure that would have increased the city’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $15 in just four years, instead sticking with a hike recently enacted by the city council that would raise it to $10.10 in 2016, $10.68 in 2017, and tie increases from 2018 forward to the Consumer Price Index.

Marijuana Initiatives in Ohio, Colorado and Michigan

The increasing trend toward marijuana decriminalization (and outright legalization) presents multiple issues for employers, including reconciling their drug-free workplace policies with medical marijuana patients’ rights, and whether or not they can punish employees for engaging in what is now deemed to be a legal activity. In Ohio, voters rejected a marijuana legalization measure that would have ended marijuana prohibition in the state. Nonetheless, most analysts believe that the rejection is not reflective of voters’ opposition to marijuana legalization per se, but rather opposition to the specifics of the ballot initiative, which would have granted an effective oligopoly on marijuana production within the state to a small handful of the initiative’s wealthy backers.   In Colorado, voters approved a ballot measure that gives state lawmakers permission to spend (rather than return to state residents, marijuana growers, and recreational users) $66.1 million in taxes collected from the sale of recreational marijuana, further legitimizing the state’s prior legalization of recreational use. And voters in the Michigan municipalities of Keego Harbor and Portage approved initiatives that effectively repealed the city’s prohibition on the possession, use and transfer of up to an ounce of recreational marijuana.

Employers can expect employment-related ballot initiatives similar to those listed above in upcoming elections. For example, building upon the passing of minimum wage increases in San Francisco and Los Angeles, it is likely that in 2016 California voters will consider a measure to increase the minimum wage to $15 statewide by 2021. Multi-jurisdictional employers should keep in mind that their policies may need to be re-evaluated, sometimes on a city-by-city basis, to ensure compliance with voter or legislatively enacted local ordinances and statutes.

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