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New Laws for a New Year: What You and Your Employees Must Know

January 6, 2012


With a new year upon us, it is vital that you be aware of new laws and regulations that likely affect you as an employer. Below are the top legal changes taking effect in 2012 in Oregon and Washington. In order to be in compliance, review the items below and communicate applicable changes with your employees.

Oregon's Hands-Free Cell Phone Use – No Exceptions for Work-Related Cell Phone Use
Beginning January 1, 2012, the only drivers in Oregon allowed to use a hand-held cell phone are those who are calling medical or other emergency help if no other person in the vehicle is capable of doing so, or using a cell phone while operating in a specific industry, including farming, agriculture, roadside assistance, or telecommunications. Employees who are 18 years of age or older may use a cell phone so long as they are using it with a hands-free accessory and are not texting.

Most importantly, this means that you and your employees, unless within one of the narrowly defined exceptions listed above, can no longer legally use a hand-held cell phone even if the use is within the scope of employment and the operation of the motor vehicle is necessary to the employment. Furthermore, texting is now outlawed for all drivers—no exceptions. Seek counsel to update your employee policies to communicate that employees may only use a hands-free accessory while driving in the scope of their employment and should not text under any circumstance. Otherwise, an employer may be faced with requests to pay for an employee's ticket or attempts to assign liability to the employer for a car accident related to using a cell phone while on the job.

Seattle Requires Employers to Provide Paid Sick and Safe Leave
Beginning September 1, 2012, businesses with employees who perform work in the city of Seattle must provide employees with paid sick and safe leave. The leave accrues at different rates depending on how many employees a business has. All employees are entitled to this paid leave, including part-time employees and full-time employees. Employees may use the leave if they or their family members are ill or are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. All businesses with employees who perform work within the city of Seattle should seek counsel to evaluate whether this complex law applies to them and, if it does, establish or modify sick-leave policies to comply. In addition, employers are required to either post a poster or provide a notice to employees informing employees of the new law. Sometime during 2012, the Seattle Office of Civil Rights will publish a poster and a model notice that employers may use. All businesses with employees who perform work in the City of Seattle should consult counsel to ensure that they are prepared to comply with this new and complex law.

Minimum Wage Increases in Oregon and Washington
Oregon's minimum wage increased by 30 cents per hour and is now $8.80. For Washington employers, starting on January 7, 2012, minimum-wage employees will receive a 37 cent per hour increase, requiring you to pay Washington employees a minimum wage of $9.04 per hour.

NLRB Posting Requirements for Oregon and Washington Employers – Postponed until April 30, 2012
While the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a final rule in August requiring employers who fall within the NLRB's jurisdiction to post notices informing employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act, the NLRB changed the effective date of this rule from January 31 to April 30, 2012. Employers who fall within the NLRB's jurisdiction include the following: (a) retailers with a gross annual volume of business of $500,000 or more; (b) non-retailers with an annual inflow or outflow of at least $50,000; (c) employers providing essential links in the transportation of goods or passengers with at least $50,000 gross annual volume; (d) health care and child care institutions with a gross volume of at least $250,000 or $100,000 for a nursing home or visiting nurses association; (e) legal service organizations with at least $250,000 in gross annual volume; (f) cultural and educational centers with an annual minimum of $1 million; (g) religious organizations without a religious character, such as a health care institution; and (h) commercial enterprises owned and operated by Native American tribes.

The notice would, among other things, inform employees of their right to unionize. Employers should be aware that this is a highly contested rule, but should pay close attention to whether this new posting will or will not be required at the end of April. Updates, as well as the poster, are available at the NLRB website,

Also on April 30, 2012, the newly-adopted NLRB rules providing for expedited union elections will go into effect. The NLRB has stated that these rules are meant to streamline the election process, but employers can expect the more rapid pace of union elections to result in an increase in union formation. The United States Chamber of Commerce has filed a lawsuit challenging the rules, though it remains to be seen whether this challenge will be successful.

Seek Legal Counsel
These issues can be complicated and this summary is not an exhaustive analysis of the topics. In order to truly ensure compliance, consult an experienced legal advisor. We are always here and happy to guide you through these issues. We wish you a happy and productive 2012 and hope to see employers with Oregon employees at our March 2012 Employment Seminar!