Labor and Employment Laws

In a previous post, we noted that small businesses are not exempt from following federal and state laws and regulations. Being unaware of these many laws does not mean you can ignore them. Failure to comply might result in hefty fines or civil penalties. In some instances, criminal charges could be a factor.

Some of the most numerous and complicated laws concern labor and employment. There are many regulations in place that protect employees, covering everything from child labor to safety in the workplace.

Approximately 125 million workers are protected by the 180+ laws enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Its web site (www.dol.gov) offers information on how to comply with these federal laws. The DOL has several agencies that administer various regulations.

The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) administers the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The division’s mission is “to promote and achieve compliance with labor standards to protect and enhance the welfare of the Nation’s workforce.” The FLSA covers minimum wages and overtime. The Act restricts the hours children under the age of 16 may work. Garnishments of employee’s wages, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are also administered by the WHD. The FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees and mandates eligible employees receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for births, adoptions and serious illness of employees and their immediate family members. The FMLA ensures the employee will be able to return to his previous job after the leave of absence.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) manages safety and health issues in the workplace through the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

If your company offers pension or welfare benefit plans, you are responsible for following the reporting requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). ERISA supersedes state laws and penalties for failing to file the required reports can be substantial.

The Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) protects those serving in the reserves, National Guard or armed forces. Some affected have the right to be reemployed by their employer at the time they entered service, in addition to other special rights.

Certain industries have specific regulations (transportation, construction and agriculture, among others), so be certain you are familiar with laws relating to your particular company. Businesses that receive grants, financial aid or contracts from the government are subject to another particular set of regulations.

The laws are numerous, but a little attention now to ensure compliance is a lot easier and less expensive than taking corrective action later.