Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Employment-Related Election Results

On Election Day, November 8, employment-related initiatives were voted on and passed by voters in a number of states.

Minimum Wage

Voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington approved ballot measures to increase their state’s respective minimum wages. Washington will incrementally increase its minimum wage from $9.47 to $13.50 by 2020. Arizona, Colorado, and Maine will incrementally increase their minimum wages to $12 by 2020. The largest increase is in Maine, where the minimum wage is currently $7.50.

The federal minimum wage remains at $7.25 an hour, as it has since 2009. Twenty-nine states and Washington D.C. have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage.

Paid Sick Leave

Voters in Arizona and Washington became the sixth and seventh states in the U.S. to pass statewide paid sick leave. Arizona’s law takes effect July 1, 2017, and requires employees to earn at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked, or up to five paid sick days annually. Washington’s law will take effect on January 1, 2018, and will require workers covered by Washington’s Minimum Wage Act to earn, and have the right to use, one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked.


Legalization of marijuana for various uses was a big winner on November 8. Voters approved measures to legalize medical marijuana use in Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota. Montana voted to loosen restrictions in an existing medical marijuana law. California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada voted to legalize the use of recreational marijuana. An effort to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Arizona failed to pass.

The new Arkansas and Maine laws expressly prohibit employment discrimination against medical marijuana users, although the laws do not require an employer to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, or possession of marijuana in the workplace. The California law expressly preserves an employer’s right to enforce a drug-free workplace policy.

Employers in these states should ensure their policies on drugs in the workplace comply with these new laws and reflect the organization's current priorities. Consider providing guidance to employees to ensure compliance with company policy. Employees may not understand that their employer can legally set limits and maintain a drug-free workplace, notwithstanding the legalization of marijuana for some purposes.

Happy Thanksgiving from everyone here at the Employment Law Navigator!

Posted by Laura Bartlow