Know the Law: HR advice for new small businesses
Q: I have started a new business in New Hampshire. My staff is lean and does not include an HR manager, per se. I'm it. What are the top things I need to watch out for?
A. It can certainly be overwhelming to someone who opens a new business to ensure compliance with the many laws that apply to workplaces. There is a lot to know, and it's hard to know what industry-specific concerns you face without knowing what kind of business you run, but by and large, wage claims and civil enforcement actions by the New Hampshire Department of Labor (NHDOL) and the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) should probably be among the first things on your list of things to watch out for.
Each year NHDOL publishes a list of the top 10 wage and hour violations, and the most common problems routinely range from record keeping violations to failure to pay wages in the correct amount in a timely manner. Other frequently seen violations include failure to pay overtime, failure to maintain worker's compensation insurance, and failure to obtain appropriate documentation of authority to work in the United States.
Rarely is noncompliance with wage and hour laws the result of a deliberate attempt to bypass legal requirements or to avoid paying workers. More often, employers are not aware of the technical requirements of the law and find themselves caught unaware when one of the agencies comes knocking. Despite lack of intent, the costs of these mistakes can be prohibitive. In addition to being ordered to repay wages or reimburse for improper deductions from pay, employers can be assessed significant civil penalties or liquidated damages. In addition, aggrieved employees now frequently band together to file class action lawsuits against businesses resulting in significant damages and attorneys' fees.
The websites of various state and federal agencies including the NHDOL, USDOL, NH Employment Security, OSHA, NH Commission for Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can be excellent resources for employers providing links to the relevant laws, forms and access to the posters required to be filed in workplaces. Local chapters of the Society for Human Resources (SHRM) throughout New Hampshire offer educational programming on workplace issues. A partnership with experienced employment counsel is also important. Attorneys can assist with important risk management measures, including conducting self-audits of employment practices and making sure front line managers are trained in basic employment laws.
Charla Stevens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by The McLane Law Firm.
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