The purpose of employment law is simple in theory: to protect employees’ rights and define employers’ responsibilities and obligations. However, as small business owners know, putting those principles into practice and adhering to the thousands of federal and state statutes that cover everything from equal opportunity and fair pay to physical well being and safety can be very challenging.
Ironically, this can be especially true for employers who are trying to create an environment that allows employees more freedom. In many cases, bending the rules may mean you are breaking the law. And while your intentions are good, there can still be legal consequences including lawsuits from employees and penalties from the government.
Common Misconceptions About Employment Law
Is your small business unintentionally breaking Colorado employment law or federal law? Some of the most common violations include:
Flexible lunch breaks
In Colorado, the regulations around breaks and meals apply to employees and employers covered by the Colorado Minimum Wage Order. This order regulates wages, hours, working conditions and procedures for some employers and employees in these industries: Retail and Service, Commercial Support Service, Food and Beverage, and Health and Medical. It stipulates that “Employees shall be entitled to an uninterrupted and ‘duty free’ meal period of at least a thirty minute duration when the scheduled work shift exceeds five consecutive hours of work.” Consequently, if you allow employees to skip lunch so they can leave work earlier, you are in violation of the order.
Allowing employees to work longer days but not paying overtime
Colorado law specifies how employees are to be paid for overtime. This includes that they “shall be paid time and one-half of the regular rate of pay” if they work more than 12 hours in one work day. This is true whether it is at your request or by their own choice. So, if you give employees the freedom to work longer days but fewer of them, and any of those longer days exceed 12 hours, you must compensate them with overtime pay. Many small business owners incorrectly believe that if an employee chooses to work long days, overtime pay is not required. That mistake can result in penalties and being required to provide back pay.
Incorrectly classifying employees as independent contractors
The idea of classifying someone who does work for you an “independent contractor” can be appealing both to them and to you in some instances. However, incorrectly labeling a person that way can lead to legal issues. Generally speaking, a person is an independent contractor if you have the right to control or direct the output of their work, but they get to determine how it will be done. It’s a definition with plenty of room for interpretation, so getting some employment contract legal help if you have any questions or concerns is a good idea.
Excusing your staff from sexual harassment training
You may believe that your staff understands what sexual harassment is and will not commit it, and therefore you choose not to provide training that will take time out of their busy day. However, the State of Colorado Civil Rights Commission Rules and Regulations encourages employers to “take all steps necessary to prevent discrimination, including harassment, from occurring, such as: affirmatively raising the subject, expressing strong disapproval, promulgating and distributing an anti-discrimination policy, training, developing appropriate sanctions, informing affected individuals of their right to raise and how to raise the issue of discrimination, and developing methods to sensitize all concerned.” If you choose not to make training available, you clearly are not following this directive and may be opening yourself up to legal issues, especially if an incident occurs.
Complying with Employment Law – Do Your Homework
Colorado employment law and federal employment law are complex. However, the regulations are well documented. By doing some research on sites like the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment web portal and www.usa.gov/labor-laws, you can develop a general understanding of what is required of your small business. That foundation will serve you well when you then seek additional guidance from a Denver business attorney.
If you need help interpreting Colorado employment law, or determining whether or not you are in compliance with federal and state statutes contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Lawyer. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
501 S. Cherry St., Suite 1100
Denver, CO 80264
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