Will State Legislation Affect Your Business Before the End of 2010?

HRACO Magazine

On November 2, Ohio voters will elect all 99 House members (22 open seats), 17
Senate members (8 open seats) and all statewide office holders, including who
will serve as Ohio’s governor for the next four years. But, there are several bills
pending before the current legislature that, if passed, could affect human resource
professionals in the months leading up to the election and during the lame duck
session before the end of the year.

HB 167, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Murray (D-Sandusky) would make victims of domestic violence and stalking a new protected class. The bill specifically prohibits
employers with 25 or more employees from knowingly discharging, failing to hire,
discriminating or retaliating against an individual or employee in several
circumstances. An employer would be prohibited from taking an adverse
employment action against an employee who requests a reasonable
accommodation or due to any disruption or threatened disruption in the
workplace caused by another who commits or threatens to commit domestic
violence or stalking against the employee. The bill also prohibits retaliating
against an employee who uses unpaid leave, in the same manner as under FMLA,
to attend court proceedings and obtain medical attention because the individual
or employee is perceived to be or is a victim of domestic violence or stalking. An
employer would be required to hold any information received from an individual
or an employee under the bill as confidential, unless the individual or the
employee gives written consent to allow the employer to share such information.
The employee would also have the right to bring a civil action against the
employer for any violation. The bill has passed the House on December 8, 2009
and awaits action by the Senate Judiciary – Civil Justice Committee.

HB 176, sponsored by Rep. Dan Stewart (D-Columbus) and Rep. Ross McGregor
(R-Springfield) prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from
discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Before
passing the House the bill was modified to be consistent with the provisions found
in the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). But, there
were additional provisions supported by Ohio SHRM and the Ohio Chamber of
Commerce that would harmonize Ohio’s antiquated employment laws with
federal law and provide a balance between an employee’s civil rights and an
employers’ liability for such cases. The bill passed the House on September 15,
2009, but has yet to be referred to a Senate Committee.

HB 470, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Dyer (D-Uniontown) prohibits employment
discrimination against smokers. The bill specifically prohibits an employer from
discharging, refusing to hire, or discriminating against any person for any matter
directly or indirectly related to employment, on the basis that the person smokes
tobacco. The bill does not prevent an employer from adopting and enforcing rules
that prohibit employees from smoking tobacco, or smelling like tobacco smoke,
during the hours of employment. An employee would be permitted to sue the
employer under the new law. Employers would be subject to a $25,000 for the
first offense, $50,000 for a second offense and $100,000 for each subsequent
offense for violating the law. The bill was referred to the House Commerce &
Labor Committee.

HB 523, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Phillips (D-Athens) and Denise Driehaus
(D-Cincinnati) creates a generally uniform definition of “employee” to determine whether an individual performing services for an employer is an employee of that
employer. Specific laws affected by this legislation would be the Minimum Fair
Wage Standards Law, the Bimonthly Pay Law, the Prevailing Wage Law, the
Workers’ Compensation Law, the Unemployment Compensation Law, and the
Income Tax Law. The bill also establishes civil administrative penalties of $1,500
for first violations and $2,500 for additional violations. In addition, the bill
allows an aggrieved party to file a lawsuit against an employer directly in court
for alleged violations of employee misclassification regardless of exhausting
administrative remedies. The bill received sponsor testimony in the House
Commerce & Labor Committee. SB 195, sponsored by Sen. Thomas Patton
(R-Strongsville) would require a similar determination of employee status.

HB 556, sponsored by Rep. Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland) would prohibit an
employer from including any question concerning whether an applicant has plead
guilty to or been convicted of a felony on an employment application. The bill
was introduced in the House and currently awaits assignment to a committee.

SB 91, sponsored by Sen. Ray Miller (D-Columbus), prohibits employment
decisions based on a person's credit rating, score or consumer credit history. The
bill has received sponsor testimony and is pending in the Senate Judiciary – Civil
Justice Committee. HB 340, sponsored by Rep. Tyrone Yates, would make similar
changes to the law and is currently pending in the House Civil & Commercial Law

SB 238, sponsored by Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) prohibits illegal and
unauthorized aliens from receiving compensation and benefits under Ohio’s
Workers’ Compensation law. The bill passed the Senate and was referred to the
House Insurance Committee.

SR 118, sponsored by Sen. Tim Grendell (R-Chesterland), created the Competitive
Workers' Compensation Task Force to review the feasibility of allowing employers
to obtain private workers’ compensation insurance. The Taskforce is holding
several public meetings throughout the year and is preparing to report its findings
in December 2010.

While many of these bills have passed through either the House or Senate, the
current political landscape may keep them from becoming law...at least through
the end of 2010. In today’s economy, it is more important than ever to be
educated on legislative and regulatory issues that could affect the state’s
employment laws and in turn your company’s bottom line. Just as important is
making sure Ohioans elect legislative and statewide leaders that understand
issues affecting the human resource profession. One good source of information
on legislative candidates to look at and encourage employees to do the same
before the November 2 election is www.ohiobusinessvotes.org.