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States Create A Patchwork Of Regulations For Employers To Follow


In the city council here in Washington D.C. last month passed one of the most generous paid-leave laws in the country, up to eight weeks of paid parental leave for full and part-time private-sector workers in the city. Now, several dozen cities, counties and states actually passed their own minimum-wage, paid or sick-leave bills last year. And this is a trend that is expected to continue, as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Marcia Goodman's job as a Chicago employment attorney is a busy one.

MARCIA GOODMAN: The last few years have been a period of kind of unprecedented, intense government activism on employment issues both at the state and the federal level.

NOGUCHI: Demographics are shaping some of the changes. Baby boomers caring for aging parents and millennials having children are demanding paid leave. There are other drivers. The gig economy is redefining traditional relationships between employers and employees. There is broader public support for minimum-wage increases. And lower-wage workers in some places like San Francisco and Seattle have won battles requiring employers to post predictable work schedules.

GOODMAN: The types of laws that states and cities have been passing that I see just accelerating - maybe even more so under a Trump presidency.

NOGUCHI: Many labor experts believe Republican control of the White House and both houses of Congress means some recent federal policies liberalizing rules on unionization and pay equality might be rolled back. That means workers' advocates are pinning more hopes on state and local policy-making. Nancy Vary, a director for Conduent, a human resources consultancy, says keeping up with the changes makes it hard for employers to plan for their business.

NANCY VARY: We're at the point where it appears that every few months, another law is popping up somewhere that may change your calculus.

NOGUCHI: Proliferation of new local laws means there are growing differences between for example the federal minimum wage of seven dollars and 25 cents and the base wage in cities like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

VARY: The disparity is growing. There's no question.

NOGUCHI: And it complicates matters for people like Eric Oppenheim, CEO of Republic Foods, which operates 17 Burger King franchises in Maryland and Washington D.C.

ERIC OPPENHEIM: We have three different wage requirements we're dealing with for entry-level job positions within the same market.

NOGUCHI: That means employees get less flexibility to move between stores. And it means trimming bonuses, reducing vacation and less hiring to make up for the higher cost of labor.

OPPENHEIM: Yeah. We're moving some people up. But in order to compensate for that, we'll be cutting entry-level or newer positions because we just can't afford to continue to add people at those higher rates.

NOGUCHI: Lizzy Simmons is senior government relations director for the National Retail Federation.

LIZZY SIMMONS: If you have an employee who works across multiple stores, and those stores are in different jurisdictions with different labor laws, I mean, that certainly gets complex and confusing both for the employer trying to keep records and for the employee.

NOGUCHI: But Ellen Bravo, director of the advocacy consortium Family Values @ Work, says she hopes employers will choose to raise their baseline wages and offer more paid leave for all employees.

ELLEN BRAVO: If I were a national employer, I'd say, what's the best policy? And let me just apply it to everybody now 'cause employers can always be more generous than the law.

NOGUCHI: Both workers' advocates and business groups say their lobbying efforts will focus more on state capitals and at local governments and not as much in Washington. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.