Employment Law Compliance: Three Tips for Your Company

Given that Virginia (and Maryland and the District of Columbia follow the “at-will” principle of employment, it can be tempting for employers in Virginia to think they call all the shots when it comes to hiring, firing and managing employees. That, however, is not always the case and may cause you to inadvertently ignore employment compliance laws.

Lawsuits from workers claiming unfair treatment or improper dismissal are on the rise. While the laws that govern workplace practices change on a regular basis, that means now, more than ever, you need to make understanding the rules (and abiding by them) a company priority.

Here are three tips:

Understand Discrimination and Vet Your Hiring Practices

Most employers know that federal laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, race, color, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), religion, genetic information, national origin or disability. It’s illegal to fire someone just because he or she is getting too old. Same goes for terminations based on someone’s race, or the fact that a woman is pregnant. Yet many employers don’t give much thought to discrimination at the front end of the employment process.

Job postings can leave you vulnerable to charges of discrimination if you don’t pay attention to the language you’re using. Seeking “new graduates” could be perceived as discriminating against older applicants. Looking for a “vigorous” or “energetic” candidate could leave persons with a handicap feeling adversely impacted. Avoid these adjectives and stick to the basic qualifications and skills a person needs to do the job in question.

Make sure to also monitor and periodically review both your application forms and job descriptions. You can’t ask an employee to give you his or her date of birth when he or she is applying for a vacancy or ask about his or her marital status or religion. Avoid putting factors in a job description that you don’t truly require. If you create unnecessary barriers, you are at higher risk of liability. For instance, if you say the person must work seven days a week while the essential functions of the job only require Monday through Friday hours, people of various religions may take issue with the posting. Likewise, you can’t inquire whether an employee has a car unless having a car is a job requirement.

Think carefully about which qualifications are essential for the position, and only apply those to the job posting.

Keep Your Policies in Order

Smaller employers without HR departments tend to think they have better things to do than write boring policies and procedures for their employees. If that sounds like your company, you may want to think again.

By producing and enforcing personnel policies, you’re achieving two important goals; first, you’re letting employees know that the same rules apply to everyone and that those policies also comply with federal and state employment laws. Secondly, you have a set of documents that you can review and update as things change. Written policies and procedures keep both management and employees on the same page when it comes to performance, expectations and workplace conduct.

It’s always a good idea to have an attorney review your policies to ensure that they’re compliant with state and federal employment laws. This gives you the security of knowing that if you follow the guidebook and make sure it stays current, you’ll minimize your exposure to lawsuits from unhappy employees.

Document Everything

While most employers mean well, many don’t take the time to properly document incidents in the workplace or put a copy in the employee’s personnel file. A verbal warning or reprimand needs to be documented, as do any health and safety violations, patterns of absenteeism, and so on. Document anything that could ultimately lead to termination. If an ex-employee files a lawsuit alleging discrimination, you’ll want to demonstrate you had reason to take the action unrelated to the claim of discrimination.

Anyone can bring a claim at any time even if they have little or no reason. Keeping your company in compliance with employment law is all about communicating the rules, enforcing them in an even-handed manner and documenting any violations of company policies and procedures. This is the best defense to any claim.

As long as your company does not engage in any discriminatory practices, or behave in a manner that violates public policy, it’s likely that you are in full compliance. When in doubt, consult an attorney specialized in business law and employment matters, such as the attorneys at Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig.



Tagged with: , , , ,

Posted in: Employment Law