The 5 Employment Laws Every Manager Must Know

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

Employment law is complicated and can have big repercussions for your company if employees fail to adhere to it — either out of ignorance or neglect. A talent contractor for Comcast was just forced to pay $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit over unpaid overtime — a violation of employment law. While you can't expect everyone at your company to be experts in the law (that's why you should have an attorney on retainer), your managers should be trained on the basics. Otherwise, you make your company susceptible to lawsuits.

While there are a lot of tutorials and tools you can use to keep employees up to date on their compliance training, there are some employment laws that every manager should have memorized due to frequent misconceptions about what they cover and serious penalties for violating them.

Here are the five crucial laws every manager must know.

National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)

What it means – This law protects your employees' right to talk about their working conditions. This means it's illegal for you to prohibit or punish employees for talking about their salaries or for complaining about scheduling.

Why managers should know it – Often considered a union-only law, this act applies to your workplace, too. One of my friend's daughters was just fired for talking about her salary with a coworker. She has hired an attorney and is now fighting the case. The business faces court costs, fines and back salary all because the manager wasn't familiar with the law.

How managers should react when conditions are discussed – Managers should support their employees in discussing working conditions, including salary. Of course, a manager shouldn't share information themselves, but there should be no retaliation for employees talking about what it's like to work for your company.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

What it means – Most workers and managers teams are familiar with the 12 weeks of leave guaranteed to employees for bonding with a new baby, but the FMLA offers much more than that. If you're seriously ill, or a family member is seriously ill, you may qualify for leave. You can even qualify for paternity leave for a foster child placement.

Why managers should know it – Managers don't approve or deny FMLA requests, but they should know that when an employee of a company with over 50 employees is seriously ill, that employee may be eligible for FMLA protection. And, that employee can either take time off in large chunks or intermittently.

How managers should handle FMLA discussions – When an employee informs a manager of a serious illness that has befallen her or her family, the manager should inform her that she may be protected by the FMLA, and encourage her to contact the HR department as soon as possible.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

What it means – If you have 15 or more employees, your business is subject to this law, which protects people with disabilities from unfair discrimination.

Why managers should know it – There are two very important reasons why managers must be familiar with this act. First, you can't discriminate against someone on the basis of a disability and second, you have to allow an employee a "reasonable accommodation" if he has a disability and needs an accommodation to do the job.

How managers should support disabled workers – The first rule of working with employees that have disabilities is to always look for ways to say yes. Remember, not all disabilities are visible, so while it may be clear that an employee in a wheelchair needs elevator access, you may not immediately realize that an employee with frequent migraines may need an office with dim lighting. Still, both can be required by law.

Title VII

What it means – This is the law the protects people on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin or pregnancy status.

Why managers should know it – You can't fire or hire someone on the basis of race — even if you're trying to increase your minority representation. Additionally, if a woman shows up for a job interview seven months pregnant, you can't treat her differently than any other job candidate. Firing, disciplining and project assignments are all covered by this law.

How managers should handle discrimination – Discrimination on the basis of gender, race, pregnancy, national origin and any other protected class is just flat out not allowed. Managers need to be trained in this.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

What it means – This law is often lumped in with Title VII when it comes to discrimination, but this is actually a separate act that protects people who are over 40.

Why managers should know it – You can legally discriminate against people who are under 40 (you're too young for the job!), but you can't say "you're too old for the job!" Managers often fail when they say things like, "We're looking for fresh ideas!" and then rejecting older candidates.

How managers should avoid discrimination – You can't say, "we're looking to hire young and energetic people!" Don't make age-related jokes and don't start asking older employees when they plan to retire. Only the employee gets to make that decision.

Managers don't need to be experts in any of these areas and human resources teams should always be there to support a manager through any situations that arise, but if managers are unaware of these laws, they can mistakenly break one. Make sure your managers know when they need to ask HR for help and you'll save your business a lot of headaches and potentially prevent lawsuits, too.

Get in touch with one of our experts to explore how we can tailor our solutions to your organization's needs.

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