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Occupational Safety & Health
2017 Legislative Wrap-Up

The 2017 legislative session has come to a close.  This year, state lawmakers ended up passing out several measures that will amend various employment laws in Hawaii.  Such laws include workers’ compensation, payment of wages, Hawaii Family Leave Law, occupational safety and health penalties, and others.  In addition, the legislature also passed out bills with regards to the Affordable Care Act, medical marijuana, non-profit corporations, and privacy of medical records.

Each legislative session, I prepare a legislative digest on behalf of the Hawaii Employers Council (“HEC”) that provides a list and description of the bills we think could have an impact on employers.  To view a copy of the latest version of the legislative digest following the end of session, please click on the following link:  Employment Bills after Sine Die.

I also presented a 45-minute webinar discussing several of these bills.  The webinar is available for HEC members only and can be viewed here:  2017 Legislative Wrap-Up (Recorded Webinar).

EEOC Fact Sheet on Transgender Employee Bathroom Access

In what appears to be a definitive answer to the question of whether employers must allow a transgender employee to use a restroom that is reserved for the sex with which the employee identifies, the EEOC has issued a fact sheet addressing bathroom access rights for transgender employees.

In its fact sheet, the EEOC cited to federal cases which found that denying an individual equal access to a common restroom corresponding to the individual’s gender identity is sex discrimination.  Similarly, an employer also cannot require a transgender employee to use a single-use restroom (or presumably, a unisex restroom, if a single sex restroom is available).  The EEOC has defined the term “transgender” as people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from the sex assigned to them at birth (e.g. the sex listed on an original birth certificate).

Of course, this is just the EEOC’s position on the matter, and there is no guarantee federal courts will adopt the same conclusion.  Nevertheless, the EEOC’s interpretation of the law is usually given deference by the courts, so it’s a safe bet that courts will also require employers to allow transgender employees to use the restroom that corresponds to the employee’s gender identity.  In Hawaii, there is no law that directly addresses this question.  However, based on a lawsuit that was filed against the state a couple of years ago, Hawaii employers are advised to allow transgender employees to use the bathroom of their corresponding gender identity.

The EEOC’s fact sheet is in line with a fact sheet issued by the DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) in 2015.

New Employment Laws in Hawaii – 2011

The 2011 Legislative session was certainly not what I would call “employer-friendly,” to put it lightly.  This was the first time in over 8 years that both the legislature and governor’s office were controlled by the Democratic party.  Therefore, it was not surprising to see that many laws passed this year favored the rights of employees and labor unions, over the rights of employers.

For example, there were several changes to Hawaii’s anti-discrimination laws, which now make it unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees (a) for taking sick leave, (b) for their gender identity or expression, or (c) for their status as a victim of sexual or domestic violence.  In addition, another significant change to the law is that it now constitutes a criminal offense for an employer to not pay wages to their employees.

With the exception of the “domestic violence victim discrimination law,” all of these laws have already become effective.  Employers are advised to update their policies and handbooks accordingly.  These laws, and some others, are as follows:

Sick Leave Discrimination (Act 118, SB 1076) – This new law amends HRS 378-32, and prohibits employers who have (a) 100 or more employees and (b) a collective bargaining agreement with those employees, from barring, discharging from employment, withholding pay, or demoting an employee who uses accrued and available sick leave.

You can read my thoughts on this new law in a previous blog post here, and a copy of SB 1076 here.

Gender Identity Discrimination (Act 34, HB 546) – This new law amends HRS 378-2, and prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of “gender identity or expression.”  The way the law is written, discrimination based on “gender identity or expression” is considered a form of sex discrimination.

The legislature defined “gender identity or expression as “a person’s actual or perceived gender, as well as a person’s gender identity, gender-related self-image, gender-related appearance, or gender-related expression, regardless of whether that gender identity, gender-related self-image, gender-related appearance, or gender-related expression, is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s sex at birth.”

You can read a copy of HB 546 here.

Domestic Violence Victim Discrimination (Act 206, SB 229) – This new law also amends HRS 378-2 and prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or applicants who are the victims of sexual or domestic violence, if the victim notifies the employer of such status or the employer has actual knowledge of such status.

This new law also re-titles Hawaii’s “Victim Leave” law to “Victim Protections” and requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations in the workplace” for victims of domestic violence, such as changing the contact information of the employee, screening phone calls for the employee, restructuring the job functions of the employee, changing the work location of the employee, installing locks and other security devices, and allowing the employee to work flexible hours, unless providing such an accommodation would cause “undue hardship” on the work operations of the employer.

You can read a copy of SB 229 here.  (Note:  this law takes effect January 1, 2012)

Labor Trafficking and Nonpayment of Wages (Act 146, HB 141) – This new law provides new and specific penalties for labor trafficking offenses.

The part of this new that will have the most significant impact on most employers, however, is that it is now makes it a criminal offense not to pay wages owed to an employee.  Specifically, the new law states that a person commits the offense of “nonpayment of wages” if the person, acting in the capacity as an employer, intentionally or knowingly or with intent to defraud fails or refuses to pay wages to an employee. There is an exception to this rule, where an employer is required to make deductions from an employees wages under federal or state law, or court order.

A failure to pay wages of $2,000 or more constitutes a Class C felony.  In addition, it will also be a Class C felony if a person convicted of nonpayment of wages falsely denies the amount or validity of the wages owed.  A failure to pay wages of under $2,000 constitutes a Misdemeanor.  Finally, the law provides that each missed pay period will constitute a separate offense.

You can read a copy of HB 141 here.

Workers’ Compensation for Partnerships, LLC’s, etc. (Act 196, HB 519) – This new law provides that the following individuals are exempt from workers’ compensation coverage:  (a) a partner of a partnership, (b) a partner of an LLP who has 50% or more interest in the LLP, (c) a member of an LLC who has 50% or more interest in the LLC, and (d) sole proprietors.  You can read a copy of HB 519 here.

Partial Unemployment (Act 165, SB 1088) – This new law repealed the sunset provisions on partial unemployment benefits and removed the prior 8 week limitation on partial unemployment status.  In addition, this new law also established conditions for which an individual who has established eligibility based on full-time employment may be found to have good cause for voluntarily separating from subsequent part-time employment.  You can read a copy of SB 1088 here.

Increased HOSH Penalties (Act 123, SB 1040) – This new law imposes a 10% increase on monetary penalties for violations of the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Law.  You can read a copy of SB 104 here.