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RI’s governor signed a few bills while you were enjoying the beach

by Meghan Sikethr-hero

A number of new laws governing the employer-employee relationship became effective this summer in Rhode Island. We summarize them for you below.

Witness this: protected time off to act as a witness

An employee may be called as a witness in a criminal or civil case, typically upon receiving a witness summons or subpoena. If an employee receives a summons or subpoena, she must attend court on the date in question. If she fails to do so, she could be held in contempt of court. However, before June 6, 2016, the employee could be fired for missing work.

Employees in Rhode Island are now entitled to time away from work to act as witnesses in compliance with subpoenas. Rhode Island employers are prohibited from discharging, threatening, disciplining, or otherwise taking an adverse action against an employee because she is required to attend court or a hearing to act as a witness. The time off need not be paid.

Employees are required to promptly provide notice to their employer that they have been served with a subpoena and must attend court or another hearing. Normal conditions for taking time off apply, including following call-out procedures.

DLT threatens to revoke your business license

A Rhode Island employer found guilty of failing to pay wages is subject to liability to the employee for up to three years of back pay, liquidated damages of two times the wages owed, and attorneys’ fees for the employee’s attorneys. There is now a new penalty for wage violations in Rhode Island.

Starting on July 12, 2016, the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT) may revoke the business license of an employer that doesn’t pay wages and fines within 30 days of a final decision and after being notified of the penalty. The revocation will be effective until the wages and fines are paid in full or the employer enters into a payment agreement with the DLT with which it stays in compliance.

‘No way’ to noncompetes for doctors

As of June 12, 2016, Rhode Island employers may no longer include noncompetition or nonsolicitation provisions in any contract with a physician. That means contracts placing geographic or other limitations on a physician’s right to practice medicine for any period of time after the termination of his employment (or partnership or other professional relationship) or restricting a physician’s right to solicit the employer’s patients are void and unenforceable. The only exception is when a medical practice is purchased or sold, provided the restrictions are in place for no longer than five years.

Public-policy concerns about restricting a physician’s right to practice medicine were first articulated by Judge Michael A. Silverstein in a Rhode Island Superior Court decision issued in April of this year. In the decision, Judge Silverstein held that a healthcare provider couldn’t enforce a noncompetition agreement against a physician. The court was concerned that the strong public interest in allowing individuals to retain the healthcare service providers of their choice outweighs any professional benefits derived from restrictive covenants.

The Rhode Island Legislature apparently agreed and made it official. Notably, Massachusetts also has a law prohibiting noncompetes for physicians.

An officer and a gentleman: new employer preference

On July 6, 2016, Governor Gina Raimondo enacted a law titled “Employment of Veterans” that allows private-sector employers to adopt an employment policy that provides a preference in hiring, promotion, or both to veterans. “Veterans” are defined as any individuals who served active duty in the U.S. armed forces and received an honorable or general discharge. An employer may require written documentation of an individual’s veteran status consisting of a U.S. Department of Defense DD Form 214 or similar documentation of separation from the U.S. armed forces.

If you choose to adopt an “Employment of Veterans” policy, it must be in writing and uniformly applied to employment decisions involving hiring and promotion.

(Don’t) follow that car!

Effective May 31, 2016, it is a criminal offense for any person, including an employer, to install an electronic tracking device (e.g., GPS) in a motor vehicle without the consent of the operator and all occupants of the vehicle for the purpose of monitoring or following the operator or occupants of the vehicle.

The law creates an exception for an employer that uses an electronic tracking device to track vehicles it owns or leases that are driven by its employees, contractors, or affiliates. If, for business reasons, an employer electronically tracks vehicles owned or leased by its employees (rather than directly by the business), the employer should first obtain written consent from employees.

Temporarily laid-off workers catch a break

Under federal and state law, individuals who claim unemployment benefits promise that they will be able and available for work and that they are actively seeking full-time work when they certify for their weekly claim (known as work search requirements). For example, claimants in Rhode Island must respond whenever they are duly called for work through the employment office; make an active, independent search for suitable full-time work; and post their résumés on www.EmployRI.org within six consecutive weeks of collective payments.

This year, the legislature passed a new exception from the work search requirements for unemployment recipients who are temporarily laid off. As of June 29, 2016, individuals who have a definite return-to-work date that is within 12 weeks of their last day of physical work, as certified by their employer on the separation notice provided to the DLT, are exempt from the work search requirements.

Bottom line

Rhode Island employers should review their practices, policies, and employment contracts to ensure compliance with the newly enacted laws. Please feel free to contact us with any questions.

To reach Meghan and discuss this article, email her at msiket@whelancorrente.com or call her at 401-270-4500.

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