Ignorance Is No Defense

By: Carol Nibley

Well-meaning business owners and managers often find themselves in trouble—facing a legal claim or financial penalties— for violations they didn’t even realize they had committed.The current business climate is very demanding of employers. Here are just a few things you may not have considered:


  •  Supervisors and managers can be personally liable for violations of certain laws including the Fair Labor Standards Act, Family Medical Leave Act, and others.
  • Certain employment records must be maintained for up to six years, and some records involving OSHA claims must be kept for up to 30 years.
  • Employers with employees in multiple states must comply with the state laws of each state. For example, non-exempt employees in California must be paid overtime for hours worked over eight per day rather than the 40-hour-per-week threshold in many other states, regardless of where the company is headquartered.
  • Supervisors in California are required to participate in sexual harassment prevention training every two years.
  • Companies that service federal contracts, even down a few tiers as subcontractors to other subcontractors, are considered federal contractors. If you have more than $50,000 in such federal contracts and 50 employees, you must prepare an annual affirmative action plan.
  • Candidates for employment in Massachusetts and certain other locales are not required to disclose their criminal history on an application for employment.

If any of these tidbits is news to you, consider some proactive and consistent actions to stay abreast of the ever-changing legal landscape in employment law. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Subscribe to one or two employment law newsletters.
  • Participate in webinars and other training opportunities.
  • Consult with an attorney or HR expert, especially if considering major policy changes.
  • Periodically review and update your employee handbook.
  • Audit your employment practices and correct any violations before a government audit forces you to do so.

Remember, “ignorance of the law is no defense” according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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