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Gender Equality, Me Too and AI: A Recap of 2018, and Prediction for 2019

From the proliferation of the #MeToo movement and the spotlight on gender equality issue to advances in artificial intelligence, 2018 was an eventful year for employment law. Here's a look back at how these events shaped the current environment and some thoughts about what you can expect to see over the next 12 months.

1. #MeToo Gains Serious Traction

Although the #MeToo movement first started in 2017, it began to make a serious impact on the workplace last year. Employers grew painfully aware of the liability they face from allowing any type of inappropriate sexual behavior or harassment to occur in the workplace.

While employers across the country made changes like creating written zero-tolerance policies and introducing employee education programs, employers in some states, like New York, were impacted by the enactment of mandatory anti-harassment training for all employees.

The movement's focus has recently started to switch towards pay equality as well, so employers can expect to see this at the forefront of legislative action in 2019.

2. Gender Equity and Closing the Wage Gap

While current Federal laws require equal pay for substantially equal work, the wage gap between men and women continues to be a very real thing. In 2018, Washington State passed new legislation that addressed issues including pay discrimination based on gender, company policies requiring pay secrecy, and retaliation for revealing pay. Other states, including New Jersey, have followed suit with similar legislation.

Employers should expect that this isn't going away any time soon and should make adjustments to ensure they don't find themselves accused of wrongdoing. Incorporating annual pay audits into your company procedures will help protect you as more states pass gender-equality legislation.

3. Increased Use of AI Brings Staffing and Hiring Changes

Last year saw a big surge in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace, causing employers to re-evaluate the makeup of their workforce. Some employers also harnessed the power of AI to help them evaluate potential new hires. In doing this, they had to take precautions to ensure that the algorithms used did not create biases or discriminatory issues.

While AI will likely continue to eliminate the need for humans to complete some tasks, companies will still always need a human touch. This creates the challenge of re-designing job descriptions while wading into uncharted territory.

A Look Ahead

As we move into 2019, you can expect to come across other challenges including addressing gender identity issues, dealing with the complications created by marijuana legalization, and creating policies and procedures to prevent workplace violence.

As a shift in the political environment leads to changes in the court systems and Federal organizations including the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there's a certain amount of uncertainty about possible legislative changes looming for 2019. As an employer, it behooves you to stay on top of the latest news and keep your business nimble so you can easily adjust for changes as the need arises.

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