Session Review: Business and Labor

Business and Labor Committee chairperson Sen. Burke Harr

Lawmakers passed several employment measures this session that protect employees’ rights to wage equity, compensation for earned vacation time and workplace privacy.

Businesses employing fewer than 15 people have been exempt from statute requiring equal pay for equal work regardless of an employee’s gender. LB83, amended with provisions originally introduced by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello in LB928, now subjects all businesses to the state’s equal pay statute.

Senators passed the bill on a 32-11 vote.

Under LB830, introduced by Omaha Sen. Burke Harr, a state agency that denies an employee’s reasonable request to use vacation leave before it is forfeited under the “use it or lose it” policy must pay the employee the cash equivalent of the forfeited leave that was denied.

The employing agency has discretion in approving or denying vacation requests. The length of vacation leave requested, the number of days left before forfeiture and the prior notice given to management all are considered in determining what is and is not a reasonable request. These provisions also require that any cash payment for forfeited vacation leave be paid by the state agency within 30 days after the requested and denied leave is forfeited.

Employees of the Legislature and the court systems are exempt from the bill’s provisions.

Cash payments made will be considered compensation in state employees’ defined contribution and cash benefit plans but not for state employees’ defined benefit plans. Currently only judges, state patrol and public school employees have defined benefit retirement plans.

LB830 contains provisions of LB972, also introduced by Harr, that add major, nontenured policymaking positions under the definition of employment to the Employment Security Law, making them eligible for compensation under LB830.

LB830 passed on a 48-0 vote.

The degree of online privacy an employee can reasonably expect at work also was discussed by senators this session.

LB821, sponsored by O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson prohibits an employer from requesting or requiring that an employee or applicant disclose his or her user names or passwords to personal Internet accounts or log into a personal Internet account in the presence of an employer.

An employer also is prevented from taking adverse action against, failing to hire, or otherwise penalizing an employee or applicant for failure to disclose his or her personal Internet account setting information.

The bill passed 46-0.

Lawmakers passed legislation focused on identifying and addressing the state’s workforce needs.
LB1110, introduced by Mello, outlines guiding principles for the state’s workforce programs and services so they are responsive to the needs of employers, workers and students.

The bill was amended to include provisions of Mello’s LB1029, which create a sector partnership program to study labor availability and skills gaps in the state. It calls for the state Department of Labor to provide technical assistance to public-private sector partnerships.

Senators passed the bill 44-0.

Two bills held in committee proposed benefits for employees’ families.

Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford introduced LB850, which would have provided paid family medical leave for covered individuals in the event of the birth of a new child, adoption or foster care placement, serious illness or pregnancy or illness of a family member.

Under the bill, any individual working for a covered employer—any employer subject to employment security law—could elect coverage, upon which a payroll tax would be deducted from the individual’s wages. The amount to be deducted would not exceed one-half of 1 percent of the individual’s wages in any 12-month period.

The bill proposed up to 12 weeks of paid leave for a serious illness, including pregnancy, which precludes the covered employee from performing his or her regular job duties. For all other leave requests, up to eight weeks of paid leave was proposed.

And LB836, introduced by Mello, would have provided monetary compensation to the family of a police officer, correctional officer or firefighter killed in the line of duty, including the family of those who work on a voluntary basis. For responders killed in 2016, the bill proposed compensation of $50,000.

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