Posted on October 15, 2018

employment lawyer reviewing documents

Wage & hour violations, family leave, discrimination, harassment – these topics continue to generate conversation throughout workplaces across the country. No matter the size of your business, at some point you will encounter one of these regulations. For that reason, it’s important for supervisors and managers to understand the basics of employment laws and regulations to maintain proper compliance.

NOTE: This article is not intended to serve as legal advice. If you have specific questions that impact your organization, we recommend that you consult your lawyer or certified HR professional.

At-Will Employment

According to The National Conference of State Legislatures, at-will employment means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, except an illegal one, or for no reason without suffering legal liability. Likewise, an employee is free to leave a job at any time for any or no reason with no adverse legal consequences.

Most organizations will define their employment policies in an employee handbook or manual, a job application or contract. Though not legally mandated, many employers require new hires to sign the employment handbook acknowledging that they have read and are aware of the policies in place.

State law offers some general protection from at-will termination since most employers are required to provide the following:

  • Final Paycheck
  • Benefits an employee is entitled to, such as severance or continued health insurance
  • Any statutory benefits, such as unemployment compensation or other forms of government benefits

If an employer violates the worker’s right through discrimination or harassment, the employee can sue for damages.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) describes this Act as forbidding age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older.

The law forbids discrimination in any facet of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, benefits and any other term or condition of employment.

While this act doesn’t protect employees under the age of 40, some states have established laws that protect younger workers from age discrimination. It’s important to know that it is not illegal for an employer to favor an older worker over a younger one, even if both employees are age 40 or older.

In recent years it has been legal and popular for employers to ‘buy out’ older employees by offering attractive severance packages to workers they wish to replace. If an employee accepts the package, they sign away their rights to sue for age discrimination.

Here are some requirements for employers that choose to take this path:

  • Workers must be given 21 days to review the agreement.
  • They have the right to review with an attorney at the cost of the employer.
  • Even after they have accepted the offer, they must be given 7 days to revoke the deal.
  • If you are letting two or more people go, you must give them 45 days to review and 7 days to revoke the deal if they choose to accept.

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

According to the US Department of Justice, the ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability in employment, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation and telecommunications.

A person with a disability is defined by the ADA as:

  • An individual who has a physical or mental impairment that considerably limits one or more major life activities
  • A person with a history or record of such an impairment, or;
  • An individual who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.

In 2008, The Americans With Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA) was added to the original law. These amendments make important changes to the definition of the term disability. The purpose of this addition was to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability.

Potential disabilities in the ADAAA include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Asthma
  • Depression
  • Cancer in remission

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

According to the Department of Labor, the FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping and child labor standards.

Arguably the hottest topic surrounding the FLSA is wage & hour violations. Employers with the best intentions can improperly classify a worker as FLSA exempt and then fail to pay the overtime wages they’re due, leaving the organization open to potential penalties and litigation.

No matter the size of your business, the Department of Labor is keeping close watch on wage and hour violations. Think it can’t happen to you? Here are just a few examples of the SMB organizations impacted in 2017.

  • A Florida roofing company was required to pay $239,893 in back wages to 259 employees for overtime and recordkeeping violations
  • An Ohio restaurant was ordered to pay $118,354 in back wages and damages to a total of 21 workers
  • A Pennsylvania printing company was required to pay $1.45 million in back wages and damages

employee-negotiations

Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA)

According to the Department of Labor, the FMLA is a labor law requiring covered employers to provide employees with job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. Eligible employees are entitled to 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

  • Pregnancy/ Birth of a child
  • Adoption
  • Foster Care placement of a child
  • Personal or family illness
  • Family military leave

The FMLA was introduced to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families. Should the FMLA be violated by an employer, workers can seek damages for lost wages and benefits, the cost of child care, plus an equal amount of liquidated damages unless an employer can show it acted in good faith and reasonable cause to believe it was not breaking the law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

This federal law originally prohibited employers from discriminating against workers or applicants on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. Now protections for physical or mental disability, reprisal and sexual orientation have been included as well.

To prevent class action lawsuits, here are some established guidelines for what you cannot do during the hiring and firing process on the basis of a protected class:

  • Refuse to hire an individual
  • Segregate or force someone to segregate
  • Deny training to an individual
  • Fire or layoff an individual

How Paycor Can Help:

We’re proud to keep more than 30,000 organizations informed about and compliant with federal and state employment laws and regulations. Still looking for more information on compliance? We have you covered.

We’ve created these three resources to help you prepare for what’s ahead.

Click below to get started:

From the healthcare industry to restaurants, organizations trust Paycor’s compliance expertise. Learn how we can help.

Content for this article was adapted from the webinar ‘Hot Topics in Employment Law 2018’. To listen to the entire webinar recording, click here.

i. https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/whd/whd20180403
ii. https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/whd/whd20171122
iii. https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/whd/whd20151238


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