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Employment Law and Human Resources

Workforce management is among the most difficult tasks for small business owners, from the hiring process and wage issues to workplace safety, discrimination, and the termination of employees. The following information should help demystify the complex patchwork of federal, state, and local laws that govern employment law and other aspects of managing human resources. This section covers laws related to hiring and firing; wages and benefits; discrimination and harassment; workplace safety; workplace privacy; and more.

Wages and Benefits

Wages and benefits typically are the two main motivators of employment, and also tend to be among the biggest expenses for employers. Since employers may be tempted to cut corners, a combination of federal, state, and local laws ensure a minimum wage, payment of overtime, and other regulations. Common wage violations include not paying for work done "off-the-clock," paying less than minimum wage, or deducting too much for tips.

Anything other than wages received by the employee, such as paid vacation or medical insurance, is considered a benefit. Employers are generally not required to offer any certain benefits to their employees, but they may help the employer attract and retain top talent.

Discrimination and Harassment

Discrimination and harassment in the workplace are related because they involve the treatment of protected individuals, such as women and racial minorities. A combination of federal and state laws prohibit discrimination in all stages of employment, from posting a job and interviewing job candidates to the termination of employees. Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of:

  • Gender
  • Race/Color
  • Age
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Disability

Some state and local governments offer anti-discrimination protections for additional categories, including those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT).

Harassment typically involves unwanted sexual advances that create a hostile work environment, can also include "quid pro quo" harassment. A hostile work environment is one in which the harassed employee has a difficult time functioning and prospering at her job. Quid pro quo involves the offer of a raise or promotion in exchange for sexual favors, for example.

Leave Laws

Employers are not required to provide paid sick days or holidays. However, most employers are required to provide some (unpaid) time off for illnesses, injuries, or to care for a family member under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If you qualify for leave, the employer may not terminate or take other adverse action against you. Some states have their own leave laws with additional protections, sometimes offering paid sick leave.

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