What does the Massachusetts Legislature’s 2016 session mean for the business communityAs it does every year, the Massachusetts Legislature adjourned on July 31. Oftentimes, the last few hours are frenetic, and bargaining and trade-offs rule the day as the clock ticks down. (This was especially true this year!) Given that we are in the midst of a presidential election and many legislators were consumed by their respective parties’ national conventions, many sessions that would have taken place in a non-election year simply didn’t happen.

So what issues should Massachusetts business owners pay attention to? Here are a few worth a look.

Equal Pay Measure

Much has been made of the passage of pay equity legislation, and given that the bill passed unanimously in the both the House and Senate, it seems clear that this was something long overdue. Women earn 82% of what men earn in the Commonwealth when performing similar tasks—this bill seeks to end that.

And while everyone sees the justice in this legislation, it is important for the business owner to know of another component of this bill. Prospective employers are now prohibited from asking candidates about their salary histories. All too often, this has been the practice of many employers who seek an answer to the question of what it will take to hire a new an employee as opposed to what he or she might be worth to the company. Interviewers take notice.

Noncompete Clauses

As stated in a Boston Globe article by Shirley Leung,

“Non-compete agreements give companies the right to sue a former employee who starts a new company or joins a competing business. New economy types will tell you it’s a big reason why Massachusetts can’t compete with California for tech talent; old economy will tell you there’s no evidence that banning non-competes would help us.”

I’ve been familiar with the noncompete climate in Massachusetts and other states for many years, and I saw this as another failed attempt to change the laws as we know them. And while no changes were made, it appears that some movement may be possible in the next session.

The Senate version (which is employee friendly) passed, but the House couldn’t close the loop. Many states (California, for example) favor the rights of an employee to move on with minimal risk, and that might soon be the case in Massachusetts. Perhaps more movement will be seen in the next session.

Airbnb Tax

If you go online and book a hotel room, a 5.7% tax is applied. But, if you own a vacation home and use an online site such as Airbnb to rent it out, no tax is applied. Is that fair to the hotelier? The Legislature basically said they weren’t sure. This looks like a wait-until-next-year scenario as well.

Paid Family Leave

Paid family leave is a benefit awarded to employees everywhere—except in the United States. Still, movements are afoot in several states, including Massachusetts, to change that by establishing a family and medical leave and temporary disability leave program. This bill, which would have profound effects on Bay State employers, passed the Senate, but it died in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Professional Employer Organization (PEO) Registration Bill

Last—but certainly not least—is the status of the PEO Registration Bill. Industry representatives negotiated with labor unions and addressed a plethora of their concerns for almost a year. And while the bill did not pass, it was voted out favorably by the House Ways and Means Committee, and we believe it stands an excellent chance of passing in the next session.

This bill would serve Massachusetts workers and their employers by setting standards that will codify and protect all business owners and workers who partner in a PEO relationship. Earlier versions of this bill have been introduced over the years, with the first dating back to 1995. It appears that small business owners and those who work for them are on the threshold of achieving a major milestone in the next legislative session. Some things are just worth the wait. This is one of them.