Top Tips for Employment Law Compliance

July 13, 2018 | Uplifting downtime Amanda G. Jansen, Attorney, BrownWinick Law Firm,

I became an employment lawyer because I never wanted to be bored at work. There are no less than 35 federal and state statutes that specifically apply to employment in Iowa. Most of these also have a set of administrative regulations and a body of case law interpreting them. Some cities and counties have their own ordinances that apply to employment. If you do business in multiple states, many of them have employment-related statutes (and local ordinances) that are different from, or in addition to, those that apply in Iowa. There are also employment-related tort, contract and other common-law claims to consider, each of which is a little bit different from state to state. If you are a federal contractor, executive orders and more regulations, directives and requirements come into play. It’s never boring!

However, what employment law nerds like me think is interesting, businesspeople sometimes think is overwhelming. There are certainly a lot of balls to keep in the air to remain in compliance with the web of employment legal requirements. Everyone does not need to become an expert. (That’s why I have a job!) Here are my top tips to keep your house in order, from an employment law perspective.

  1. Know what you don’t know. You can check this one off the list, because I just told you! In all seriousness, the best way to keep a molehill from turning into a mountain is to know when to ask for help. Many risks can be avoided altogether, or problems solved early, by making a quick call to an employment lawyer. “DIY” employment agreements rarely save money. The old proverb “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is nowhere more true than it is in the area of employment law.
  2. Happy employees don’t sue. It’s so simple, but it’s true. If you treat employees how you would want to be treated (or how you’d want your mom or your little sister to be treated), nine times out of 10, you’re doing the right thing. Is Iowa an at-will-employment state? Yes. Does that mean you can fire someone for performance with no prior warning or fire someone for “no reason”? Not necessarily. How would you feel if told “You’re fired, and I don’t have to give you a reason”? Incredulous. How would you feel if your little sister made a sexual harassment complaint and hadn’t heard anything about the outcome of the investigation after two weeks? Angry. So, follow the Golden Rule whenever possible and keep folks happy.
  3. Nip it in the bud. Ignoring a problem almost always makes it worse. Everyone hates delivering negative feedback and having “crucial conversations.” It’s awkward, uncomfortable and people feel bad about it. But avoidance compounds the issue. Don’t get in a situation where you’re defending a termination decision and the employee’s last five performance reviews are “meets expectations” (or worse, “exceeds”), if that is not the case. People must be told they are not cutting the mustard if you want them to improve. Similarly, don’t ignore bad behavior or rely solely on “verbal warnings.” Call it out when you see it and set the expectation immediately.