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Workplace Laws You Need to Know

It can feel exciting and nerve-racking when your business grows to the point where you start needing help. When you’re used to doing things yourself, it’s not always easy to let go of the reins. What if you make a bad hire? What are your recourses if things go wrong? How can you protect your business if the relationship ends badly? To help protect your business, if you’ve found yourself in a position where you need to bring on a few new employees, consider these workplace laws.

Discrimination Worries:

Here is what the law says: It is illegal to let go, or refuse to promote, or not hire in the first place, any employee because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Depending upon the circumstances, discrimination can also entail age, sexual orientation, marital status, or disabilities.

But even if you do the right thing, that does not mean that you may not get sued. There are both unscrupulous employees as there are unscrupulous employers.

…if you are ever, unfortunately, sued, you will have proof that you did nothing wrong…

The important thing then for any employer is to document their fairness, and then document some more. Create a paper trail showing that your actions, or upcoming actions, are legitimate and not discriminatory. Treat people fairly, treat them the same, and put things in writing. That way, even if you are ever, unfortunately, sued, you will have proof that you did nothing wrong.

By the same token, when interviewing, avoid asking about these things – age, race, religion, marital status, etc. – so that you can never be accused of not hiring for those reasons.

Employee status:

This typically falls into two categories:

1. Exempt and non-exempt employees: The question often arises as to who is, and is not, exempt from overtime pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act says that exempt employees often hold executive, administrative, professional or outside sales positions, and irrespective of hours worked, they typically are salaried.

2. Independent contractors versus employees: It is enticing to want to call someone an independent contractor when in fact he or she is actually an employee. Why? Because with an independent contractor you are not required to…

  • pay for workman’s comp insurance, or
  • match unemployment, or
  • pay Social Security taxes

But it is also a big and potentially very costly mistake. If you are wrong and your independent contractors really are employees, the fines are serious.

Here’s the basic rule: Independent contractors really are independent (e.g., they decide when, where and how their work gets done), they can work for several companies, and they set their own pay and schedule.

Benefits:

Surprisingly maybe, an employer is not required to give employees time off for vacation, legal holidays, or sick leave, nor pay or match health insurance. What they must do is pay at least the minimum wage, match Social Security withholdings, pay unemployment, provide workman’s compensation insurance, and pay overtime if non-exempt employees work more than 40 hours a week.

Protection of Proprietary Information:

There are several ways to protect your proprietary and/or confidential info:

  • Register your trademarks: Trademarks are your company logo, catch phrase, etc. These can be protected by registering them at the website for the United States Patent and Trademark office.
  • Get patents: Similarly, your inventions should be patented, period.
  • Have people sign nondisclosure agreements (NDAs): An NDA says that you are disclosing proprietary, confidential information and the recipient must keep it private, and cannot use it, without your permission.
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