Employment laws can come from federal, state, or local sources and it can often be confusing to figure out which ones apply to your workforce. The answer depends on factors such as how many people you employ, the number of employees in each location, and the minimum number of employees specified in the employment law statute.
For example, as of 2005, federal laws such as Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act apply to private employers, employment agencies, educational institutions, and state and local governments with at least 15 employees. Other federal laws, like the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, apply to private employers with at least 20 employees. The federal Equal Pay Act applies to all employers who are subject to the federal Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA). And the FLSA applies to almost all employers.
State discrimination laws have their own eligibility requirements. For example, in California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act applies to employers who regularly employ more than five persons (with some exceptions for religious and non-profit organizations). The California Family Rights Act applies to employers who do business in California and employ 50 or more full-time or part-time employees. California’s wage and hour laws apply to virtually all employers and different rules are applicable depending on the employer’s industry.
Some localities have living wage requirements for employers who contract with the local government. And some localities have minimum wage requirements regardless of whether the employer has a local government contract. Other localities, like New York City, have their own discrimination laws that apply to employers of a certain size.
Employers cannot pick and choose which laws to follow, even if they overlap. They must comply with all federal, state, and local laws that are applicable, even if the laws have different legal standards for regulating behavior in the workplace. Sometimes, that means employers need to combine the laws and apply the provisions of each that are the most favorable to the employees.
As a result, employers must be certain that employee handbooks and other published policies are appropriately written based on the laws applicable to the different jurisdictions in which they are used. Multistate employers face particular challenges because it must also be determined whether to apply the federal, state, and local laws specific to each location or whether to combine the laws of all the jurisdictions and apply them uniformly across the board.
Alternatively, an employer may decide to write policies that apply a combination of the laws in every location while writing other policies more narrowly. For example, it could be very expensive for an employer to apply daily overtime standards in every state in which it has employees instead of only in those where it is required. On the other hand, it may be easier and more consistent with the corporate culture to apply the broader protections of some state and local discrimination laws in all locations in which a company does business.
The federal government and most states have informative Web sites intended to help you figure out which laws apply. It is a good idea to check those Web sites and then talk with human resources and legal counsel about the appropriate scope of application.
Barrie Gross is former Vice President and Senior Corporate Counsel (Employment Law) for an international Fortune 1000 company and is a regular contributor to AllBusiness.com. She is the founder of Barrie Gross Consulting, a human resources training and consulting firm dedicated to assisting companies to manage and develop their human capital. Visit www.barriegrossconsulting.com to learn more about Barrie and the services BGC provides.
Note: The information here does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you have a legal issue or wish to obtain legal advice, you should consult an attorney in your area concerning your particular situation and facts. Nothing presented on this site or in this article establishes or should be construed as establishing an attorney-client or confidential relationship between you and Barrie Gross. This article is provided only as general information, which may or may not reflect the most current legal developments or be complete.