Managing Personnel Without HR
Employment laws and the role of the laboratory manager
When an employee in your organization has a medical situation and needs to take time off or have an accommodation in the workplace, how does your manager respond? What if an employee gets hurt on the job, do you have confidence that the manager will say and do the right thing for both that employee and your business? When production levels are high and employees need to work overtime, does he ensure that the time is accurately recorded and paid? Does she have discretion when making decisions on how much to pay a new hire?
Managers of Risk
These scenarios, if not handled correctly by your laboratory manager, could put your organization at risk. The role of the manager is complex. He or she must ensure the department is meeting its goals, keeping the workforce engaged and productive while also playing a vital role in protecting your organization against lawsuits. A competent, well-trained manager is a huge asset, but when one isn’t well trained, they can be your biggest liability. When an employee has a question or concern, their first and often last stop is their manager. Therefore, if an employee’s question or situation could have some legal implications, your laboratory’s manager needs to know what to say or do.
When you think of employment law compliance, you are probably thinking about your HR department (if you have one) or your employment attorney as being responsible for addressing those types of issues. Yes, they do those things, but they are often not readily available, so your employees depend on their managers for giving the right advice. To avoid risk to the organization, the interactions that your managers have with your employees need to be compliant with the federal, state, and local laws.
Notable Employment Laws
Managers are not expected to be experts on employment law; however, they should be aware of the most common employment laws and understand their role in ensuring compliance.
Title VII of The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, color, national origin, gender, and any other characteristics that are protected under the law. Therefore, managers must treat all employees and applicants consistently and equally and must ensure their decisions are not based upon an individual’s protected characteristics.
The Fair Labor Standards Act sets the standards on exempt status, overtime pay, minimum wage, and other pay-related items. Managers must ensure that employees are compensated appropriately within the law. For example, improperly classifying an employee as exempt versus non-exempt and not paying appropriate overtime could leave your organization liable.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits discrimination against persons of at least 40 years of age. Therefore, managers must act with extreme caution and never make employment decisions based upon a candidate’s or employee’s age or assumption of their nearness to retirement. In addition, the manager should never make suppositions about an employee’s ability to do a job based upon the employee’s age.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides unpaid, job-protected leave and the continuation of health insurance coverage to eligible employees. When an employee asks for time off for medical reasons, whether theirs or a family member's, your manager must know how to appropriately address that request. The employee doesn’t have to specifically request FMLA leave, but the manager has to understand what could potentially be a request for a protected leave.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits sex discrimination based upon pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions. It is important that managers treat pregnant employees the same as any other employee with a temporary disability. Denying employment to a pregnant employee or candidate because she is pregnant could be a violation of the law.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination to individuals with disabilities. But it prompts the questions of what is a disability and what is reasonable accommodation. Your laboratory manager needs to understand the basics of this Act. He or she should be involved in the entire process of determining appropriate accommodations, as they have firsthand knowledge of the employee’s job duties.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide a safe and healthy place to work that is free of hazards. The manager plays a key role in ensuring that the work area is safe, as well as ensuring that employees are properly trained on how to safely perform the job.
Training & Documentation
In addition to the above laws, there are many other federal laws such as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), as well as state and local laws that managers need to be aware of.
In addition to the training on the employment laws, managers should also receive training on how to appropriately document any employee-related issues such as improper conduct and performance problems.
Lacking documentation of these issues or having documentation that is incomplete or contains improper information could also put your organization at risk.
Investing in training can be expensive, requiring time, money, and non-productive work time. But most businesses can’t afford not to. Do your managers pose a risk to your organization? Minimize your risk by investing the time to train your managers on the relevant employment laws and make them aware of their critical responsibilities in protecting your employees and your organization.
Jennifer Wheatley, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, is the President/Owner of CenterPointHR, LLC, a human resources consulting practice in Louisville, Kentucky.