If you haven't heard, employment law has gone crazy. Employers are being bombarded with new requirements, costs and liability. You've heard of "mission-creep," where a country sends in a few military advisors and, next thing you know, it's fighting a war? Well, this is "obligation-creep." Everybody in a position of power, from the president on down to local governments, is creating new obligations for employers.
The D.C. City Council has proposed a massively burdensome new law that provides four months of paid leave for each employee. D.C.'s new Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015, if enacted, requires businesses to provide each employee with paid leave for 16 weeks. Employees will qualify for this new leave if they are ill, bonding with a newborn or adopted child, taking care of an ill family member or unable to work for other reasons. These are all understandable reasons to be absent from work.
But 16 weeks of paid leave is an unprecedented benefit in the United States and incredibly expensive. Of course, D.C. did come up with a novel way to pay for all of this: a new tax (they must have been up all night coming up with that). Every business with an office in D.C. pays. Big picture: D.C. adds a tax and excuses key employees for extended time periods. Good luck making that work. Seriously, think about the company of 10 employees that has two or three people out for a third of the year. I wouldn't want to be one of the lucky employees left behind.
D.C.'s proposed new leave law quickly overshadowed nearby Montgomery County, Md.'s, new sick leave requirement. In June, the Montgomery County Council passed a law requiring all local businesses — big or small — to provide paid sick leave for all employees starting in October 2016.
D.C. and Maryland aren't alone, even if they lead the pack. Recently, courts, elected officials and legislatures around the country have been pounding businesses with major new requirements.
Throughout 2015, courts have ruled that FedEx and Uber should be treating drivers as employees, not independent contractors. When these drivers are considered employees, they are entitled to all of the benefits of employment status, such as minimum wages, overtime pay, insurance and other benefits.
In July 2015, the Department of Labor announced that employers are misclassifying employees as independent contractors and that the DOL would aggressively pursue these companies.
On Labor Day, President Obama issued an executive order requiring federal contractors and their subcontractors to provide paid sick leave starting in 2017.
For years now, an employer's obligations have been significant, but not out of control. In the new reality, another law is thrown on the pile every week. How does this affect businesses? First, they have more responsibilities to their employees. Second, more people are being considered employees. You do the math: More laws times more employees equals more violations and more costs. If you're in business, you're probably — right at this very moment — breaking some employment law. Seriously. You have exposure.
D.C. is going to lose employees and even businesses to Maryland and Virginia because of the counterproductive and onerous requirements proposed by the City Council. Plenty of companies will be forced to cut back on pay, automate or outsource.
Employment law is like the tax code. It gets longer and more complicated every year. In the end, some of these employment laws hurt the very people they were intended to benefit.
Jack Garson is an attorney focusing on business law. He's the former director of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and has served on the Maryland State Comptroller's Business Council. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.