Human resources managers at successful, expanding companies have a lot to celebrate. Growth is a good thing (better than not growing or getting smaller, at least). However, along with that growth comes an increasing number of federal laws your organization needs to know about.
Many employment laws become applicable to a firm after its number of employees reaches a certain number. As the point person on personnel issues, it makes sense that the HR professional keeps watch on that number, and the laws, to know when a threshold has been passed, and what needs to be done to comply.
Here’s a partial list of laws to watch. Keep in mind there may be more, and the government may add or change laws at any point. They like to keep HR people on their toes!
Focus on discrimination
Many of these laws involve various forms of discrimination. It helps to understand the definition of discrimination—basically, when it comes to employment law, it means taking adverse, or negative, action against an employee. This might include:
- Failure to hire
- Failure to train or offer an opportunity
- Failure to promote
- Failure to offer an accommodation required by law or offered to a peer
- Offering a lower wage or salary than to a peer
- Offering fewer benefits than to a peer (e.g. vacation, 401(k), bonuses, covered expenses)
- Taking more aggressive disciplinary action, including any of the above, than with a peer
- Reducing pay or benefits
- Transferring to a less desirable position, shift, or location
Key federal laws to know
Here are some specific federal laws to be aware of:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 15 employees: The ADA protects qualified workers with disabilities from unlawful employment discrimination. It also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for disabled individuals (unless doing so would place an undue burden on the company).
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 15 employees: Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, and sex. A number of courts have ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity also are covered.
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), 15 employees: The PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to specifically protect individuals from discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical conditions. Simply put, if pregnancy hampers an employee’s ability to do their job, the employer has to treat them as a temporarily disabled employee.
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 20 employees: This law bars discrimination against staff 40 and older, prohibits age preferences or limitations in both posting and practice, and forbids mandatory retirement ages (with some exceptions).
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 50 employees: FMLA allows qualified employees to take job-protected leave to care for themselves or a close family member with a serious health condition. It also blocks discrimination or retaliation against employees for taking leave under the Act.
- Employer Mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), 50 full-time equivalents:
The Employer Mandate requires employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees (30+ hours per week) to offer minimum essential health coverage at an affordable rate to all full-time employees.
Depending on what state (or states) your company operates in, minding which laws affect your company after it reaches a certain size can be challenging. Some states are regulation-prone (hello, California); others are more are less fine with what federal law covers. The particular provisions also may vary, as may the employee threshold.
It’s a good idea to educate yourself on how state laws affect the following areas:
- Additional protected classes: certain states might add or modify the categories. For example, some states shake their heads at discrimination based on arrest records, credit information, marital status, and other factors.
- Paid sick leave: In applicable states, employers typically must by law offer at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30-40 hours of work. Laws vary widely on who is eligible, and for what reasons leave may be used.
- Criminal history inquiry: Commonly referred to as “ban the box” laws, these prohibit employers from asking about criminal history—at least until an interview is scheduled or a job offer is made.
- Salary history inquiry: Such laws prohibit employers from asking a candidate’s current or previous wages; this may cover third-party checks as well as direct inquiry.
- Social media privacy: Such laws tend to prohibit employers from asking or demanding employees hand over their login information for Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms. They also prevent an employer from looking over the employee’s shoulder while they access such accounts themselves, or add the employer to their contacts. Last, these laws bar a company from retaliating, should an employee or prospect decline to offer their social info upon request.
Employment law is a complicated matter. Even the most on-top-of-everything HR professionals can find it challenging to keep up. That’s why we’re here. Contact us and we’ll help you make sure you’re armed with the latest information.