HR & Benefits News is a monthly column by Chris Cooley, co-founder of MyHRConcierge and SMB Benefits Advisors.
Grocers across the nation have many state and federal laws to keep up with throughout the year, and in 2019, they will need to ensure they stay diligent in their compliance with current laws and aware of those that are potentially upcoming.
The following three federal labor law issues highlight important workplace and employee rights issues that will likely be affected by significant regulatory action for the duration of this year.
Proposed overtime ruling—Department of Labor
On March 7, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a new federal overtime rule that, if instated, would increase the salary threshold for overtime exemption from $23,660 per year to $35,308. In order to be exempt, employees must exceed the salary requirement and also must perform job duties that are executive, professional or administrative in nature. Neither simply being paid on a salary basis nor having a particular job title determines exempt status.
Compliance Tip No. 1: This new regulation is not imminent. However, we are encouraging our clients to perform an audit of all salaried employees, especially those whose salary is between the $23,660 and $35,380, in order to plan most effectively for their businesses.
Form I-9 errors or violations
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) more than tripled the number of Form I-9 audits from 2017 to 2018, and this trend is continuing into 2019. Fines and penalties can, of course, be imposed for knowingly employing unauthorized workers but also for improperly completed forms. In its 2018 year-end report, ICE announced it assessed $10.2 million in civil penalties for I-9 violations.
Employers found to have knowingly hired or continued to employ unauthorized workers may be fined and/or criminally prosecuted. According to the ICE website, penalties for knowingly hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized workers range from $548 to $19,242 per employee.
Compliance Tip No. 2: Be prepared for a Form I-9 audit. Be sure that you have a Form I-9 for each employee and that Section 1 and Section 2 are properly completed and signed.
Paid leave and parental leave laws—FMLA
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that applies to all public employers and all private employers with more than 50 employees on 20 or more weeks for the previous or current calendar year’s payroll. Employers are required to recognize what employees are entitled to under this law, whether the employee uses the words “Family Medical Leave Act” or “FMLA” or not when requesting leave. Employers can be fined for failing to provide the employee with the required notice designating the leave as FMLA, failing to keep the proper records required by FMLA and failing to have a current FMLA policy. The health conditions and circumstances under which an employee is eligible for FMLA are extremely specific, and supervisors can actually be held personally liable for FMLA violations.
Compliance Tip No. 3: Include an FMLA policy in your employee handbook reflecting the most recent provisions of the law. Train all management on what constitutes FMLA leave and how to perform the documentation and employee notifications.
It is important for grocers to stay current regarding federal workforce management requirements and also to train supervisors and managers on all of these policies. Staying informed of the latest changes is also crucial for maintaining compliance with federal laws and regulations.
Chris Cooley is co-founder of MyHRConcierge and SMB Benefits Advisors. Grocers and other employers rely on him for HR compliance and administration, contesting SUI claims, ACA compliance, COBRACompli, employee handbooks, workforce management and benefits advisory solutions. Cooley’s companies specialize in helping small to mid-sized grocers throughout the U.S. He can be reached at 855-538-6947, ext. 108 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.