How Big is Too Small to Observe Federal Labor Laws

Observing federal employment regulations is a complicated thing. It’s so detailed and confusing that many small businesses – particularly start-ups – ignore their responsibilities in this area. This is risky business. Challenges by government agencies can consume hundreds of unproductive hours and whopping legal fees. The cost to implement legal practices in the first place is minuscule compared to the cost of fighting challenges by government regulators.

While this may seem like an overwhelming task, the internet has made the job much simpler. Standard legal documents and government approved forms are readily available for free or to purchase for just a few dollars. A quick Google of “employee handbook” revealed 25 sources with prices ranging from free to $99.95 and everywhere in between. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Spend five minutes and just do it.

There are some more government regulations that don’t apply to very small or start-up businesses. The bigger you get the more important they become. Here’s a guideline for which regulations you need to heed at what size.

OSHA for Safety

At 11 employees the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) comes into play. This requires you to keep specific records that track workplace safety.

ADA and Civil Rights

Just four more employees (15) requires you to observe the Civil Rights and Americans with Disabilities Acts (ADA). Any size business with decent values should comply with the spirit of these regulations regardless of company size. The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The best way to handle this is to make sure you have written criteria for the specific skills required on the job. No law requires you to hire someone who is not qualified for the position. To protect yourself from questionable employees who complain, just be able to prove that you’ve hired based on your job description.

ADA is easy and offers a big business advantage to employers. It requires that you make a “reasonable accommodation” for someone with a disability if they are qualified for the position. Something as simple as raising a desk on blocks so that a wheel chair can slide under meets the requirement. Best of all, research has shown over and over again that disabled workers are often the best workers. One call center I know that generally experiences huge employee turnover has no problem keeping blind employees who work with the accommodation of a talking computer. They’re not only loyal but more productive.

Age Discrimination

workers over 40. As with Equal Rights, you should be able to prove that you’ve hired the most qualified person for the position regardless of age.

Family Medical Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act free employment advice comes into play when you’ve grown to 50 employees. This regulation has some complications that make it hard to interpret so you may want to seek legal advice when you reach this point. It requires you to provide unpaid leave to pregnant workers or those who have a family medical emergency. You must retain an open position for them when they’re ready to return to work.

Worker Retraining

When you’re at 100 employees, you must observe the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act. It’s as complicated as its name sounds and difficult to implement. Under it you must provide 60 days notice to employees who will be affected by covered plant closings and layoffs. While telling people two months in advance that they’re losing their job will surely result in chaos and lost productivity, you still must do it. Be sure to get HR and legal counsel experienced with this process to learn many ways that you can minimize the damage.

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