We read about multi-million dollar laws suits almost daily where organizations are sued or fined for wrongful termination, discrimination, not properly handling a claim of harassment or many other law violations. The list of possible offences is large with numerous complex laws, rules and regulations that seem to be constantly changing.
Which Laws Apply to Me?
The laws and regulations that apply to each organization are based primarily on three things:
- The number of employees
- The states in which you conduct business
- Whether or not you conduct business with the government
Even organizations with one employee must comply with over 13 federal laws and almost as many state laws and regulations. When companies hit 15 employees, they must comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. At 20 employees, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) applies. At 50 employees, the Family & Medical Leave Act comes into play, and at 100 employees everything else is added like EEO-1 Reporting requirements and Worker Adjustment & Retraining Notification Act (WARN).
Each state can establish their own laws and regulations covering all employment practices, as long as they at least follow Federal laws. You will typically find differences in practice details for such things as breaks, final paychecks, and other employment practices.
Depending on the size of government contract and the number of employees determines whether or not you must comply with such laws and requirements as affirmative action or VETS 100 Reporting. Generally, anyone with 50 or more employees and annual government contracts/business in excess of $50,000 will need to have an affirmative action plan and comply with other federal contractor laws, rules and regulations.
Where Do Laws Come From?
The laws come from the Constitution (State and Federal), Statutes (laws passed by legislatures), Common Law (prior court decisions), Administrative Regulations/Rulings and Court Orders.
The following organizations are picking up their compliance efforts: IRS, Department of Labor, OSHA, OFCCP, INS, EEOC, National Labor Relations Board, SS Administration and Federal and State Court.
How Do I Comply?
The following are suggestions to help you create legally compliant employment practices and overall work environment:
1) Know Which Laws Apply – Someone needs to be aware of the laws, rules and regulations that apply to your organization, keep up on changes, and actively implement the steps needed to ensure compliance.
2) Align Practices to Comply – Once familiar with the laws that apply, evaluate current practices and make needed changes to follow the requirements.
3) Establish & Follow Consistent Practices, Procedures and Guidelines – One of the best techniques to drive and communicate consistency is to create good employment practices in an employee handbook. Equally important is to provide leaders with guidelines on how to handle important employment practices for things like hiring, interviewing, orientations, training, performance management, appraisals, layoffs, corrective actions, pay, terminations and discharges. This can be accomplished in a leader handbook or training program.
- Train Supervisors – What supervisors say and do will either help or hinder your legal compliance and best practices. Supervisor actions are one of an organization’s greatest liabilities, if they violate employee
Leaders should be trained in employment laws that apply to them, employment practices (described in 3 above), how to monitor risky situations and how to respond to employee complaints.
- Base Employment Decisions on Job-Related Factors – Every employment decision related to hiring, appraisal, corrective action, training, discharges, pay, etc. must be based solely on job-related reasons/information. Any implication that decisions are based on sex, age, national origin, religion, color or other protected category is a recipe for a law suit and a hefty fine.
- Keep Good Documentation – Organizations and leaders who clearly document employment decisions and actions are best prepared to defend employment practices and to make informed decisions. Keep files on each employee recording key performance measures and feedback (constructive & praise). Individuals involved in hiring, pay, disciplinary action and termination decisions should also document information needed to demonstrate that decisions were job-related and supported by facts, not
7) Establish a Grievance and Complaint Process
– If employees have a place to complain and are given fair consideration, the need to seek outside assistance from attorneys or compliance organizations is lessoned. Equally important to having a process is to make sure that all complaints are taken seriously, investigated and are acted upon.
- Monitor the Work Environment – Organizations and leaders need to monitor the work environment and keep in touch with employees so they are aware when unsafe, legally risky practices are taking place (e.g. harassment). Once aware of risky practices, supervisors need to take the necessary steps to eliminate them. Maintain a safe, hostile-free work place by communicating expectations, training employees and monitoring, to ensure compliance.
- Seriously Evaluate Disciplinary Actions/Discharges – Perhaps the two most risky employment practices are corrective actions and discharges. These are the times when tempers can flare and individuals can say and do things that escalate to possible legal actions. It is a good practice to not allow anyone to fire on the spot. All employment violations and performance issues should be thoroughly reviewed before action is taken in anger or spite. Get all sides of the story, know the laws that apply and make an informed decision.
- Be Respectful, Fair, Honest and Kind – As obvious as it may seem, it is when a company neglects to be respectful, fair, honest and kind that employees complain to outside agencies, seek attorney’s or
- Review Current Practices With an Outside Professional – It is good business practice to utilize an outside organization, like HR Service, to review current practices, identify risks and help make needed
- Align Yourself with Experts – There are so many possible areas where things can go wrong, it is imperative to either have an expert on-site or align yourself with someone who can assist with challenging employee issues, risks and compliance
- Do the Right Thing – If you think about it, most of the laws, rules and regulations are not only required, but are good practices that treat people with respect and dignity. Eliminate bias, discrimination and prejudice from your workplace and promote a positive work environment that rewards performance and results, not color of skin, age or gender.