Of the many requirements in running a business, labor law is one of the most critical to honor and complex to administer. The US government understands the challenge and requires employers to post the labor laws on your premises in plain sight for employees to read and access. But once they’re up on the wall, you don’t need to think about them, right? Not so.
Do you know what the poster means? Are you prepared to answer questions about its contents? Do you know your employees’ rights and your own responsibilities towards those rights? Check out our breakdown below.
Family and Medical Leave
Eligible full-time employees have certain rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act in regards to unpaid leave. These specific cases include:
Basic Leave Entitlement
Up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave (with job protection) for pregnant women, new parents, those caring for family members with serious medical conditions, and those with serious medical conditions. In the case of serious health conditions, the employee must prove their situation meets the requirements for this leave.
However, if the need for a specific role has been eliminated during the leave time, that job is not protected. Special company policies are keep to whether these provisions will be enabled.
Military Family Leave
If they have a spouse, child, or parents in active duty in the military, the employee’s 12-week leave can be put towards specific situations involving their military experience, whether that’s attending counseling sessions, going to particular military events, making arrangements for a variety of financial decisions involving said military member.
Extended leave is also available for up to 26 weeks in certain cases. However, like with basic leave, there are restrictions and company policies that come into play with military family leave.
Benefits and Protections
Eligible employees will be guaranteed certain benefits during unpaid leave, including continued coverage under the company group health plan if you have one. The employee also has the right to any and all other benefits that they had from your business before going on unpaid leave.
Keep in mind that if the cost of benefits changes, the employee might end up having to pay more for these benefits than what they paid when they were still working at your business.
This leave can be broken up however the employee sees fit (whether using it all at once, taken intermittently, or by reducing your schedule). Most employees also must use some of their accrued paid leave (in other words, personal time or vacation time) during this leave of absence, and need to comply with their employer’s policies.
Be aware that in these cases, the employee can’t just take off time whenever they want. They would need to both qualify for the unpaid leave of absence and follow the company policy (which also means more than likely they’ll have to use any PTO they have first).
If the need for unpaid leave is foreseeable, then they are required to give you advance notice of 30 days before leave starts. If 30-day advance notice is not possible, then the employee should provide notice as soon as they can. And after receiving this notice, the employer is responsible for letting them know if they, as an employee, are or are not eligible for this protection.
Military Leave and Reemployment
Reemployment rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act specifically refer to individuals who have had to leave employment in order to fulfill military service or certain types of service for the NDMS (National Disaster Medical System).
Essentially, it prohibits you as an employer from discriminating against those who have served or are serving in the military. It allows (with certain stipulations found on the poster) for these employees to be reemployed with their civilian job after their military service is complete.
It also means that if you offer health plan coverage to your employee and they leave the job to perform military service, they can still continue that health plan coverage for up to 24 months and have the right to reinstate that coverage when they are reemployed with you. Fees and employees cost can differ for this depending on the situation.
Many employees don’t realize their right to safety at work includes specifics protected by OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Heath Administration under the U.S. Department of Labor. OSHA’s focus is on ensuring that American workers can feel safe while doing their jobs. This federal organization enforces both safety standards based on each specific industry as well as the basic rights of employees. These rights include:
- Being able to notify OSHA or their employer about safety issues they find in the workplace, or file a complaint, without retaliation or discrimination
- Being able to request an OSHA inspection for the business
- Having you as the employer correct those hazards
- Receiving record of any exposure they might have to harmful conditions in the workplace and any medical records relating to the situation
These rights must be posted in the workplace by management. On the other side, each employee also must comply with all occupational safety and health standards involved with their job.
The federal minimum wage as of 2009 in the U.S. is $7.25 per hour. If an hourly employee works over 40 hours in one work week, overtime pay is in place – 1 ½ times their regular hourly rate.
Note: the minimum wage can vary depending on the state in which your restaurant is located. For instance, New York has recently raised minimum wage to $15.00 per hour, with that local law slowly starting to get enforced throughout all industries over the next few years. Make sure to check the local labor laws of your area to see what applies to your business.
According to federal law, for tipped employees, employers are required to pay tipped employees (including restaurant servers) a cash wage of $2.13 per hour and then the tips make up the rest of their pay.
But it’s important to note that if the server’s tips combined with the flat wage doesn’t equal that minimum hourly wage of $7.25 per hour, you as the employer must make up the difference. If you withhold wages or underpay your staff, the Department of Labor could go after you to recover the payment for your employee, and civil or criminal action may occur.
There are specific rules for hiring minors for your business, both on a federal and state level. In the case of restaurants, federal law states that employees can be as young as 14, but 14 and 15 year olds can only work three hours on school days (with 18 hours max in a school week) and 8 hours on a non-school day (with the normal 40 hours on a non-school week, like spring break or summer vacation).
The specific times of the day are also regulated – during the school year, work can’t begin before 7 a.m. or end after 7 p.m.; this is extended in the summer to not end after 9 p.m. Make sure to check your states labor laws to ensure you are complying with all your local child labor laws.
Other provisions apply to wage laws, and it’s important to do your research and make sure you’re following these requirements and know what you must pay your employees.
The Employee Polygraph Protection Act
This act protects employees and job applicants from being coerced or forced to participate in a lie detector test. It also prohibits employers from disciplining, or discharging or discriminating against any employee who refuses the lie detector test. There are some companies that are exceptions to this act – the private sector, fields related to national security, other security service firms – but restaurant owners still must abide by this act.
Employees are protected under federal law from discrimination for the following:
- Sex (including pregnancy and including wages)
- National origin
- Genetics (applicant’s genetics test, family medical history, etc.)
As an employer, you are also prohibited from retaliating against an employee who files discrimination charge, as well as any employee who participates in a discrimination proceeding or opposes said discrimination against another employee. Be aware of evolving state and local protections, including sexual orientation, as well.
Note: the explanations above are summaries of federal labor law. It’s still recommended that you check out your actual labor law poster (don’t forget the state-specific version as well), or consult an attorney, to get the full description of these rules.
Need a quick guide for hiring, training, and retaining your restaurant employees? Read on: