Human Resources: Small businesses; big compliance issues

By Karyn Rhodes
Emerging and existing labor- and employment-related laws require organizations of all sizes to review their policies and practices annually to ensure continued compliance. Th­e following are the top obligations on small employers this year, and tips for meeting them.
Family Medical Leave Act
FMLA requires that covered employers allow eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for the birth of a child and to care for the newborn, adoption or foster care and caring for the child within one year of placement, caring for a family member with a serious health condition, or for the employee’s own condition that impacts the ability to perform his or her job. During the leave, group health insurance coverage must continue under the same terms and, after the leave, the employer must restore the employee’s job. Keep in mind that, in addition to FMLA, many states have family and medical leave acts that may afford workers greater protections.
Americans with Disabilities Act
­The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities, meaning those with a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits a major life activity. ­The prohibition applies in all aspects of employment, from hiring and compensation to job training and advancement. Employers must also make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities during the job application process as well as throughout employment, such as acquiring equipment, modifying work schedules, providing interpreters, and modifying training materials or exams unless the accommodations impose an undue hardship on the business. Since more than 22 percent of adults in the United States have some type of disability, according to the CDC, it’s critical that small businesses understand how to comply with the law and train anyone in a supervisory or management role about what job interview questions to avoid and how to address requests for accommodations.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin by private employers, state and local governments, and educational institutions – and also bans retaliation against a person who makes a claim of discrimination. Th­e law applies to the job application process as well as to employment, and requires that employers reasonably accommodate applicants’ and employees’ religious practices unless it would cause an undue hardship on the business’ operation.
Fair Labor Standards Act
­The FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, and child labor standards for both full- and part-time workers who are covered employees either on an “enterprise” basis or on an “individual employee” basis. Th­e act also includes recordkeeping provisions and requires employers to display an official poster outlining the FLSA’s requirements. Remember that certain employees are exempt (often referred to as white collar exemptions) from either or both the minimum wage and overtime pay provisions. However, it’s important to make sure that the requirements for exempt status apply since according to the DOL, millions of salaried white collar employees don’t meet the exemption criteria and are entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay.
Equal Pay Act
­This act makes it illegal to pay men and women different compensation, including salary, overtime, bonuses, stock options, benefits, and other forms of pay, for performing equal work in the same workplace. In many small companies, employees often hold multiple roles, making it challenging to identify which jobs are substantially equal. In those cases, it can be helpful to document the factors behind wage determinations like merit, seniority, work quality, or another factor other than gender.
Occupational Safety & Health Act
Th­e Occupational Safety and Health Act created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. To ensure employers provide a safe and healthful workplace, OSHA sets and enforces standards, which apply to most private sector employers. Among employer responsibilities are providing a workplace free of hazards, making sure employees use safe tools and equipment, and providing safety training. In addition, companies must post the OSHA (or state equivalent) poster informing workers of their rights, and keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses. ­Those with 250 or more employees who are currently required to keep OSHA records as well as employers with 20-249 employees in specific industries must now submit injury and illness recordkeeping forms electronically through the Injury Tracking Application by July 1, 2018 (except in certain states). Beginning in 2019, the information will be due by March 2 every year.
Pregnancy Discrimination Act
­The Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires that covered employers treat women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions the same as other job applicants and employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. ­e act’s requirements apply in all aspects of employment, including hiring, promotions, benefits, and firing, and protects works against discrimination based on a past, current or future pregnancy. Under the law, employers must provide women who are pregnant the same benefits, meaning, for example, that if an employer provides light duty to other employees, it can’t deny it to a pregnant worker simply because of cost or inconvenience.
Immigration Reform & Control Act
­The Immigration Reform and Control Act was enacted in 1986 to address the issue of unauthorized immigration. Under the act, employers can’t hire or employ individuals who are not authorized for employment, and must verify every individual’s identity and employment authorization on Form I-9 before hiring. Companies are also prohibited from discriminating against individuals during the recruiting, hiring and Form I-9 process on the basis of actual or perceived national origin, citizenship or immigration status. To comply with the act, appropriate documentation and a Form I-9 are required for every employee. But mistakes on the I-9 are common – and fineable – so make sure the forms are completed correctly. And be sure to retain the forms for all active employees and for three years after the date of hire or one year after termination, whichever is later, for terminated workers.
Many small businesses lack HR departments to monitor changing workplace rules and requirements. And non-compliance can expose organizations to both civil and criminal charges. Be sure to review changes to labor and employment laws and regulations yearly and adapt policies and practices accordingly.
Karyn Rhodes is VP/Director of Complete HR Solutions, a division of Complete Payroll Solutions. She can be reached at or (401) 332-9325.