Ignorantia juris non excusat.
In case you’re not up on your Latin, that phrase translates to something you may have heard before: ignorance of the law excuses not.
That notion applies to all aspects of our lives, and it applies to organizations too. Just because your company might not be super familiar with employment laws, for example, doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods in the event you’re found guilty of breaking one of them.
That being the case, it’s worth your while to brush up on employment laws to make sure your company is abiding by them. Here are four such laws you need to avoid breaking:
1. Don’t classify your workers incorrectly
You may be tempted to classify as many workers as possible as independent contractors. That way, you avoid having to offer them benefits and you don’t have to contribute payroll taxes on their behalf. Beyond that, you also don’t have to cover worker’s compensation or unemployment insurance either.
But only classify workers as independent contractors if they are in fact independent contractors. How do you know for sure? You don’t control their behavior, you don’t supply them with equipment, and you don’t treat them the same way you treat your employees.
Businesses that are guilty of misclassifying their employees — even unintentionally — are subject to significant fines and maybe even back pay. For example, one company recently had to fork over $400,000 to 96 employees for misclassifying some and denying proper wages to others, according to a release from the Department of Labor.
2. Don’t give your employees time off without taking away PTO
Giving your employees the day off on their birthdays or their work anniversaries may seem like an innocent thing you can do to recognize your employees’ efforts — and it is. There’s just one catch: believe it or not, it’s illegal to give your workers the day off without requiring them to use their PTO.
It’s worth noting that different states have different laws governing PTO. To decrease the chances you may run afoul of the law — and incur the associated penalties — check out this comprehensive list compiled by the Society for Human Resource Management.
3. Don’t fire someone for taking leave
Let’s say one of your employees, John, just had his first child with his wife, Sarah. Family members are busy and can’t lend Sarah a hand, so John decides to take a leave of absence to help his wife figure out parenthood.
As an employer, you might be tempted to show John the door — particularly if his leave takes place during a busier time of the year. But the Family and Medical Leave Act actually stipulates that workers at covered companies are able to take up to 12 unpaid weeks off for a number of situations (e.g., birth, sickness, or serious health conditions) — without fear of losing their jobs.
You might not like John’s decision to take a leave of absence, but there’s not much you can do about it. Instead of going shorthanded, you can always hire temporary help if need be.
4. Don’t withhold overtime pay
If you’re not aware, there’s a new government regulation coming down the pike that could affect your business. The Labor Department recently finalized a deal that extends overtime pay to salaried employees making $47,476 or less. The change doesn’t go into effect until December, according to the Wall Street Journal.
As the law currently exists, salaried employees don’t qualify for overtime unless they earn $23,660 a year or less. So while there’s some time to figure out how to respond to the changes, depending on the salaries you offer your employees and how many hours they pull each week, you may have to figure out how to absorb the wage increases.
At the end of the day, businesses simply need to be aware of the employment laws that apply to them. Do your due diligence, and you won’t have to pay fines and incur other penalties.
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