Five Employment Laws All Businesses Need to Know

If you watch the news, or read the headlines, employment-based lawsuits are becoming more and more prevalent and many courts are ruling against the employer. Litigious and disgruntled employees often allege overtime pay discrepancies, discrimination, family leave, and various forms of discrimination and employers, if found at fault, face fines and harsh penalties. Federal employment laws usually govern all of these issues that all employers will face at one point in time. Given that, it is very important for supervisors and managers to comply with the basics of those laws. The following is a list of the five most commonly cited and litigated federal employment laws:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, and national origin. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees for each working day for at least 20 calendar weeks during a 12-month period. It provides for monetary and non-monetary remedies to the victim of any case of workplace discrimination in any aspect of employment (i.e. hiring, firing, promotion, compensation, etc.). Basically, Title VII instructs employers to treat all employees and applicants equally, without regard to their race, religion, gender, sex or any other characteristics not related to job performance.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) – The FLSA is the nation’s main wage law and establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, proper recordkeeping, and child labor standards affecting full-time and part-time workers.  FLSA also outlines the duties associated with the decision-making involving whether an employee is considered “exempt” or “non-exempt.” The Act applies to businesses with two or more employees. To avoid violating the FLSA, employers always need to be paying their staff, at minimum, the federal minimum wage and overtime when applicable. Employers also need to keep in mind when a worker’s duties change; this may move them from “exempt” to “non-exempt” status, or vice-versa.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows eligible employees of covered establishments to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for the birth of their child, to address their own serious health condition, or to care for a seriously ill immediate family member. As of 2015, immediate family members are defined as spouse (both opposite sex and same sex), child, parent, or next of kin. Companies are covered by the FMLA if they have 50 or more employees on payroll within a 75-mile radius. Employees of covered entities are eligible for FMLA leave if they have worked for the covered employer for at least one year and have performed at least 1,250 hours of paid work over the last 12 months. Several states have enacted their own family medical leave laws that closely mirror the federal rule, but may have important differences. All employers should contact their state labor department for any information on a possible state FMLA program.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) – The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits employment discrimination (including benefits discrimination) against individuals over the age of 40 on the basis of the individual’s age. Specific provisions prohibit the mention of age in job advertisements or inquiries about age during job interviews. The ADEA applies to businesses with 20 or more employees on payroll. To avoid any problems with the ADEA is to make sure that you never take anyone’s age or proximity to retirement into account when making big decisions on hiring, firing, pay, benefits, or promotions.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits employment discrimination of any kind against qualified individuals with disabilities. Disability discrimination also occurs when a covered employer or other entity treats an applicant or employee less favorably because they have a history of a disability or because they are believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if they do not have such an impairment). The ADA applies to businesses with 15 or more employees on payroll and provides specific protections to individuals with disabilities. Covered employers must, upon request from an employee or applicant with a disability, accommodate the individual’s condition in the workplace. Employers can reject the job accommodation request only when the request imposes an undue hardship on the business.

Any business that manages employees is required to know, at least, a general knowledge about employment laws. The laws previously mentioned are just a very small percentage of the critical human resource and compliance topics faced by small businesses on a daily basis. To assist business owners in gaining the proper knowledge of employment law regulations, Personnel Concepts has developed the HR Desk Reference flip binder, which offers a wealth of human resource, labor law, and safety information at the user’s fingertips. The Reference covers over 50 workplace topics and gives law summaries and bulleted tips to provide simplified guidance on what employers need to do to comply with applicable laws.

A lack of labor law knowledge can lead to costly discrimination claims and potential liability. It’s up to employers to educate themselves about the legal issues that affect the workplace.