Skip to main content

Breaking Down Noteworthy 2021 Labor and Employment Laws

By February 15, 2021February 22nd, 2021No Comments

With each new year comes new federal and state labor and employment laws.

In 2021, employers throughout the country will have to abide by new and updated laws pertaining to family and medical leave, diversity, minimum wage, and of course, COVID-19. 

On the federal level, there are three major changes that all employers should note: 

  1. Minimum wage increase for federal contractors: Federal government contractors are now required to pay employees working with a government contract at least $10.95/hour, a $0.15 increase over the 2020 minimum wage.
  2. Changes to Form W-2: Employers can now choose to display only the last four digits of an employee’s Social Security number on their Form W-2 to reduce the risk of identity theft 
  3. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requirements: In 2020, the EEOC waived the requirement that private-sector employers must submit an annual EE0-1 survey. In 2021 however, these employers must submit their 2019 and 2020 reports.

Additionally, nearly two dozen states raised their minimum wage in 2021. Most notably, New Mexico increased wages for untipped workers by $1.50 an hour beginning on January 1, while Virginia employees will see a $2.25 minimum wage increase in May.

California, Delaware, Arkansas, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Illinois, and Florida all increased wages by $1.00 or more. 

If you’re operating a business or organization in 2021, here are the new labor and unemployment laws you need to know, broken down by state.



COVID-19 notification and reporting

AB 685: Expands the state’s ability to track and respond to workplace COVID-19 cases. Specifically, the law allows Cal/OSHA to issue Stop Work orders for workplaces that pose a risk of COVID-19 related “imminent hazard,” and requires employers to issue notice to all employees who were present in the event of a potential workplace COVID-19 exposure. 

SB 1159: Establishes that an employee who tests positive for COVID-19 is entitled to a presumption that illness or death from COVID-19 on or after July 6, 2020, through January 1, 2023, arose in the course of their employment. This law only applies to employers with 5 or more employees. 

Independent contractors 

AB 323: Extends the exception for the ABC test for newspaper carriers, enabling newspaper carriers to remain independent contractors until January 1, 2022. 

Corporate boards

AB 979: Requires that any publicly traded corporations with a principal executive office in California appoint members of underrepresented communities to their board of directors. 

Mandated child abuse reporting: 

AB 1963: Requires human resources professionals who work for a business that employ minors, and employ five or more employees, to be recognized as mandated child abuse reporters. These employees must be given mandated reporting training and a written statement describing their obligations.

Statute of limitations for wage/hour discharge: 

AB 1947: Lengthens the statute of limitations for an employee who brings a claim of discriminatory discharge in violation of labor laws. It also authorizes attorney’s feed for successful plaintiffs.



Unemployment Compensation

SB 20-170: Tweaks unemployment compensation laws so that employees forced to leave work for domestic violence-related safety issues may still be eligible for unemployment benefits. The bill also permits severance pay to be deducted from unemployment compensation. 

Pay Equity

 SB 19-085: Bans wage discrimination based on sex and gender identity. It also prohibits employers from seeking or asking an applicant’s salary history, mandates wage transparency, and provides damages for employer non-compliance.  

Paid Leave

SB 20-205: Changes the way that employees accrue paid sick leave. The law allows employees to earn at least one hour of paid sick leave and safe time leave for every 30 hours they work, for a maximum of 48 hours per year. The law went into effect for employers with 16 or more employers on January 1, 2021, and will apply to all employers in Colorado in 2022. 



Sealing criminal records

SB 288: Allows rehabilitated employees to petition to restrict and seal certain criminal records. The law also prohibits employers from using an employee’s criminal record information when taking action against them. 

Student loans wage garnishment

SB 443: Places a 15% limit on wages that can be garnished for student loan repayment from an employee’s weekly pay. 



Independent contractor classification

SB 2296: Establishes the circumstances under which certain independent contractors are not considered employees. This law went into effect on July 1, 2021. 



Protected time off

LD-369: Enables employees in Maine to accrue one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked, up to 40 hours per year, when the employer has more than 10 employees. Maine also created procedures for providing notice of the need to use leave, scheduling use of leave, and penalizing denial of paid leave. 



Paid leave for private employers

HB 4640: Requires private employers in Massachusetts to provide covered individuals with paid family and medical leave, funded through a new payroll tax. 


New York 

Direct deposit payment 

SB 2328: Allows employees who have chosen direct deposit to receive electronic confirmation of payment instead of traditional paper pay stubs. 



Independent contractors

HB 1407: Prohibits an employer from classifying an individual as an independent contractor if he is an employee and provides civil penalties and debarment from public contracts in the case of violation



Criminal Background Checks 

HB 1645: Makes it illegal to deny employment to a care provider or licensing to an early childhood educator in cases where a background check reveals that the individual has a finding of child abuse or neglect in their record, but has since obtained a certificate of parental improvement. 


About the Author

Lia Tabackman is a freelance journalist, copywriter, and social media strategist based in Richmond, Virginia. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, CBS 6 News, the Los Angeles Times, and Arlington Magazine, among others.

501c Services newsletter sign up - popup graphic envelope letter

Keep up with
the news

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter for timely updates, news, and events.