Employment Law Advice For In-House Counsel

Employment Law is a complicated and ever-changing field. In-house counsel must stay on top of the latest laws.

The majority of private sector employees work at-will, meaning that employers can take adverse employment actions (such as firing or reducing pay) for any reason or no reason at all. This creates the opportunity for discrimination and harassment claims to arise.
Federal and State Laws

Federal and State laws cover areas such as minimum wage, overtime pay, employee breaks, hiring minors, and employment discrimination. The laws also set enforcement and reporting standards, as well as rules on how long payroll records must be kept.

These laws are administered by numerous agencies, such as the Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and National Labor Relations Board. They prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, and more.

Many of the disputes that result in litigation stem from wage and hour claims. The federal government sets baseline rules with respect to these issues, but states are free to pass laws that offer additional protections (such as higher minimum wage rates). For multistate employers, it is important to keep abreast of changes at the state level as well. This will help ensure your business remains compliant. The elaws Advisor is an excellent tool to use for this purpose.
Classification Issues

Employment law covers the rights of job applicants, employees and employers. It addresses issues such as whether a worker should be classified as independent contractor, exempt versus non-exempt or tipped employee; minimum wage and overtime pay requirements; and discrimination, harassment and safety concerns in the workplace.

Sometimes an employer needs legal advice to help them work through a dispute with an employee. Perhaps an employee files a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a similar state agency, or they challenge a denial of unemployment benefits in a hearing.

An experienced lawyer can provide guidance on how to handle these situations, including preparing appropriate responses and evidence. For example, a lawyer may help employers determine how to respond to an employee who is raising serious claims that could result in large damages awards against the company. They can also review employee handbooks, policies and agreements to make sure they comply with all the relevant laws.
Employee Rights

Employee rights may vary by country, but in developed countries workers enjoy protections that include the right to equal pay, the right to unionize and the right to work in a safe environment. Workers also have the right to receive workers’ compensation and to file retaliation claims against employers who violate workplace laws.

Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on age, religion, gender, race, national origin or sexual orientation and are barred from asking family-related questions in the interview process. Furthermore, employees have a right to privacy in their personal possessions (including handbags or briefcases), storage lockers and private mail. Employers are usually forbidden from monitoring the use of work-related computers and internet websites when accessed by the employee on company property.

In some instances, an employee may be protected from firing due to a violation of state or federal law for whistleblowing (telling the public about ethical or legal violations by the employer). Such protections are often granted under the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
Company Policies

Company policies set standards for employees and help guide them through a variety of situations. They help to balance the interests of employers and employees by protecting companies while ensuring employee rights are upheld.

Without company policies, problems that arise may become difficult to resolve. For example, a clear disciplinary policy can make it easier for managers to enforce appropriate discipline. Having formal guidelines also shows that the company is organized, professional and stable which can lead to better business relationships and a positive public image.

When writing a policy, consult your legal department to ensure you are in compliance with federal and state laws. Establish a pilot group to review the policy and provide feedback so that any changes can be made before it is distributed widely. Ideally, the policy should be written in plain, professional language that is easy for employees to understand. Also, the policy should be easily accessible through training sessions and in an employee handbook.Employment Law advice

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