Ring in the New Year with New Laws!

January 6, 2017

Within the last year, Massachusetts enacted several new laws that will affect businesses. Unless otherwise stated, many of these laws went into effect on or before January 1, 2017. Some of these laws will impact business owners in different ways and will not be covered in this article. This article will simply provide a general overview of some of the new laws.

Increase in Minimum Wage – Massachusetts’ minimum hourly wage and service rate increased for hourly employees. The minimum hourly wage in Massachusetts increased from $10.00 per hour to $11.00 on January 1st. The service rate for tipped employees also increased to $3.75. This is the third increase in Massachusetts minimum wage. Employers will need to change their hourly rate and review any wage and hour posters to update the notices to employees of the new hourly rates.

Public Records Law - Massachusetts amended its public record laws to provide stricter timetables for state agencies and municipalities for responding to public record requests. State agencies have 15 days and municipalities have 25 days to respond to such requests, but extensions may be granted for additional time with a showing of good cause for the delay. A judge may award reasonable attorney’s fees and costs in cases where an individual takes a public entity to court for failure to comply with the request.

Regulating Ride Sharing Services - A new law requires that ride sharing service drivers, like Uber and Lyft, submit to state criminal background checks and review of any sexual offender status. Additionally, this new law requires certain inspections of vehicles and that drivers obtain certain insurance coverage on the ride share vehicles. Drivers must place decals on their cars to identify them as ride sharing vehicles. This legislation provides further safety standards for this growing industry.

Marijuana Laws - Effective December 15, 2016, Massachusetts residents 21 years of age or older may legally smoke recreational marijuana in small amounts. Just prior to the end of the year during an informal session, the legislature voted to delay the original July 2018 opening of marijuana shops by at least six months. The law contains certain restrictions on the locations where individuals may smoke and the amounts they may possess in public and in their home. The law also allows employers to enact policies regulating marijuana use in the workplace.

Transgender Anti-Discrimination and Public Accommodations - On October 1, 2016, Massachusetts law extended protection against discrimination for gender identity to any place of public accommodation. The law provided protection against gender identity discrimination in matters related to housing, employment, public education and credit, and the new law extended the protection to public accommodations. This law prohibits discrimination against transgender individuals for their use of public accommodations, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, in correspondence with their gender identity. The Attorney General’s office has issued guidelines for businesses regarding compliance with this law.

Pay Equity Act - Massachusetts Pay Equity Act was signed into law in 2016 and it will go into effect on July 1, 2018. Employers will need this time period to review their current pay practices. The Pay Equity Act strengthens fairness in hiring and wages by prohibiting discrimination by employers in their compensation practices on the basis of gender. This includes the payment of wages, benefits or other compensation. This law also prohibits employers from asking applicants about salary history before an offer of employment with compensation, and prohibits employers from preventing workers from disclosing or discussing their salary information with other co-workers.

Rescuing Pets from Cars – Massachusetts prohibits pet owners from leaving animals inside vehicles during extreme cold or heat when the temperatures inside the car can exceed levels outside or the conditions pose an adverse risk to the health or safety to the dog. Under certain specific circumstances, bystanders, police, fire, or animal control officers may enter a vehicle if “reasonably necessary to prevent imminent danger or harm to the animal.” This law also prohibits dogs being tied outdoors for more than 15 minutes during a weather advisory or extreme weather conditions. The law also outlines additional restrictions on the amount of time for tethering dogs outside. Any members of the public wishing to learn more about this law should contact their local animal control officer or police department.

This article only provided brief overview of the certain Massachusetts laws. Many of these new laws will impact businesses and their employees. Anyone with further questions on how these laws will impact their businesses should seek legal advice from a business attorney.

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