by: S. Eric Bass, J.D., M.B.A

Like many of successful entrepreneurs, Joe Fitnessbuff owns a growing business with several employees. He worked hard to set up payroll, draft an employment policies manual, and manage his employees. Recently, one employee asked Joe for several weeks off in order to help his seriously ill father. The employee has some accrued vacation time, but not enough to cover several weeks away from work. Joe has heard from some of his fellow gym owners that the “Family Medical Leave Act” requires some employers to grant unpaid time off to employees in certain circumstances, but he is unsure of its application to his business.

I encounter many business owners with similar situations. They often do not know which federal and state employment laws apply to their businesses. In most cases, whether a particular law applies will depend on the number of their employees and the circumstances of an individual employee. In this article, I’ll provide you with a brief guide to a number of well-known employment laws and the types of businesses and employees to which they may apply.

Family Medical Leave Act
The Family Medical Leave Act requires an employer to grant up to 12 weeks of annual unpaid leave to qualified employees. Employees that qualify must have been employed by the business for at least 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months. But small businesses are often exempt from this requirement— only businesses with 50 or more employees located within a 75-mile radius are required to comply with this act.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prevents discrimination against employees and prospective employees over the age of 40 because of their age. This act prevents discrimination in hiring, promotions, and terminations, so it will apply even to a job applicant. You should also note that it does not prevent discrimination against younger employees because of their age. This act applies only to businesses with 20 or more employees.

Americans With Disabilities Act and Other Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws
Federal laws prevent discrimination of many types, other than age discrimination, in the employment context, including discrimination against the disabled. Keep in mind that these laws also typically apply to job applicants as well as existing employees. With regard to discrimination against the disabled, you should also be aware a crucial factor is whether the employee or applicant qualifies as “disabled” under the act. Overall, these acts apply to businesses with 15 or more employees.

Fair Labor Standards Act
The Fair Labor Standards Act’s main purpose is to ensure that employees eligible for overtime pay receive such pay properly. Generally, the act requires that applicable employees receive pay at one and one half their normal hourly rate for any hours worked during a week beyond 40. Overtime may even include time spent preparing for work or getting to a job site. This act applies to any business with 2 or more employees and having $500,000 or more in sales each year (subject to certain exceptions).

Other Laws
Most of the federal employment laws described above have certain exceptions and other requirements we cannot cover completely here. There may also be similar state laws that apply even when the federal law does not. If your business has enough employees to require it to comply with these acts, please be sure that you are aware of their requirements and that you have appropriate policies in place. The attorneys at Venn Law Group can help you identify which requirements apply to your business and prepare policies to comply with them.

Putting it in Practice
Let’s return to Joe Fitnessbuff from the top of the article. Joe currently has 25 employees. Therefore, the requirements of the Family Medical Leave Act do not apply, but he has the option to comply with the act anyway. Joe decided to comply with the act and grant the unpaid leave. Joe has the staff and financial ability to grant the leave, and his business is growing rapidly, so it would have to comply soon in any case.

In order to make sure that he doesn’t create any future problems, Joe calls his human resources advisors and the attorneys at Venn Law Group, who prepare him a Family Medical Leave Act policy that he has currently implemented for all employees. That way, once his business does grow to the size where it would have to comply, he will be prepared. Are you?