2021 is set to be a landmark year for the number of jurisdictions raising wage floors across the country. According to a National Employment Law Project report, as of January 1, 2021, 20 states and 32 municipalities raised their minimum wage. By the end of 2021, the report tracks that as many as 24 states and 50 municipalities will increase wages for the lowest-paid workers.
Perhaps as a reaction to the steadily growing Fight for $15 movement or in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, 40 cities and counties will have met or exceeded a $15 minimum wage by the end of 2021. Eight states — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — and the District of Columbia, will raise their state minimum wage to $15 or higher by 2026. Florida voters’ recent approval of a ballot initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026 may evidence a shift of public support for an increased minimum wage. Indeed, a 2019 Pew Research Center survey revealed that upwards of two thirds of Americans support a $15 minimum wage. President Biden also supports increasing the minimum wage to $15, and while Congress unsuccessfully sought to include a provision to raise the federal hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 in the recent American Rescue Plan COVID-19 stimulus bill, we expect further action to increase the federal minimum wage.
New Jersey lawmakers passed a bill that guarantees employees who provide direct care at long-term facilities a minimum wage of at least $3 more than the prevailing minimum wage rate. The law defines a “long-term care facility direct care staff member” as “any health care professional licensed or certified . . . who is employed by a long-term care facility and who provides personal care, assistance, or treatment services directly to residents of the facility in the course of the professional’s regular duties.” Most notably, the New Jersey law does not cover long-term care facility employees who do not provide direct care. Virginia lawmakers recently failed to pass similar legislation that required those employers authorized to remain open during a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order to pay employees 1.5 times the regular rate of pay for hours worked.
A shift in minimum wage floors will surely have a major impact on health care employers given that nearly 7 million of the approximately 18.6 million health care employees earn a median wage of $13.48 according to a report by the Brookings Institute. Health care employers should continue to assess their wage practices to not only ensure legal compliance but also allow them to remain competitive in retaining and attracting talented medical professionals and staff.