Q&A: What’s HR’s role in implementing federal mandates?

Lora Patterson, HR Advisor at Zenefits
Oct 21, 2021

HR has a lot on its plate. On top of hiring, retention, terminations, and employee relationships, HR is also responsible for compliance with city, state, and federal laws. How can HR departments stay up-to-date with ever-changing laws and regulations? On this episode of POPS!, Zenefits Senior People Ops Advisor Lora Patterson shares tips and resources […]

HR has a lot on its plate. On top of hiring, retention, terminations, and employee relationships, HR is also responsible for compliance with city, state, and federal laws. How can HR departments stay up-to-date with ever-changing laws and regulations?

On this episode of POPS!, Zenefits Senior People Ops Advisor Lora Patterson shares tips and resources for compliance with labor laws. You’ll hear more about laws HR should have on its radar—including the new federal vaccine mandate—and what could happen if you don’t follow them.

After you listen:

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On this episode, you’ll hear: 

  • [00:26-01:07] What is HR’s role in implementing state and federal laws?
  • [01:07-05:50] The consequences of failing to comply with federal laws that apply to most employers 
  • [05:51-08:16] Resources to ensure compliance with state and federal laws
  • [08:16-09:18] What to know about the new federal vaccine mandate

POPS Star Bio

Lora Patterson is a Senior POPS Advisor at Zenefits, where she advises clients on a broad range of human resources issues including employment laws and regulations, management practices, policies and procedures, and best practices regarding people management, development, and engagement. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.


Lora: What’s HR’s role in implementing state and federal loss.

Welcome to pops the show that shows you how to shift from human resources, paperwork to people, operations for the new world of work Howell by answering one question at a time.

Today to help us answer your question. Here’s Laura Patterson, senior people, ops advisor at Zenefits. HR has a lot on their plate. They have to manage hiring retention, terminations employee relationships. And then on top of all of that, they have to keep their companies compliant with any city, state or federal.

It’s a lot to take on. And in the last year and a half, HR departments have been through an unusual amount of regulations and it can feel like requirements are changing far too rapidly to keep up. So I wanted to take some time today to focus on the best ways to stay up to date with the ever-changing laws and regulations that may apply.

So the first thing I want to look at is what happens if you don’t follow these laws. So I get a lot of questions from clients who are trying to determine what to do in various situations. And they want to know, you know, if I don’t do X, Y, and Z, what could potentially happen to me? And the answer is that it depends different laws have different repercussions.

And so I want to know. Some federal laws that apply to most employers that you, you just want to know about and you want to make sure you’re following. And this is why. So the first law that I want to look at is the fair labor standards act. So this is the law that establishes minimum wage over time record keeping and youth employment standards.

If a company were to, let’s say, willfully violate this law, they could be prosecuted criminally, and the violator could be fined up to $10,000 for something let’s say smaller. Let’s say that you willfully violate minimum wage or overtime provisions that could result in a fine of around $2,000. Now on top of these fines, employees could also file private lawsuits against the employee.

Which means the employer now has to pay legal fees and if they lose damages, they may also the employees some backwards. The next thing to look at is misclassifying workers. Now, this has become more of a hot topic because we have federal laws around this and now states have their own laws around this.

So when you’re classifying workers, a lot of times companies are trying to decide between, is this person an employee or contractor? Now, if you were to classify someone as a contractor and later on. The employee or the contractor says, wait a second, I’m actually an employee. And they file a claim. A couple of things can happen to you.

So the first thing to look at is how the IRS handles these misclassification. So they saved that failing to provide a W2 form, can subject and employer to back taxes as much as 41.5% of the contractors wages. And those types of penalties can go back three years. Additionally, if the IRS thinks you intentionally misclassified the worker, they may seek a criminal conviction without two, a year in jail.

And a fine is high as $500,000 for a corporation. You would also get labeled as a tax evader and your independent contractor themselves could be audited and maybe forced repaid any business deductions that they took during that time. The next thing to look at for misclassifying is how the, the department of labor handles this.

So the department of labor is going to require you to pay back wages for up to three years. And we’ll let you find spur in proper records. The company will also get an audit, which may then uncover other wage and hour violations. And those penalties will be assessed at that. The next thing to look at would be state insurance companies and departments of labor.

And they may also seek some sort of back repayment on unemployment insurance and workers’ comp premiums. They could also be unhappy with the lack of record-keeping and that could result in additional fines. And that’s just for contractors, if you were to misclassify exempt employees that could result in its own back-pay and an overtime wages that are owed to that employee.

Another thing to consider as a lot of these federal laws have poster requirements for employers. So the lot self comes out and says an employer has to do the following things. And one of those requirements is put up a poster in your workplace, make sure everyone can see it. So they know what benefits apply to them.

If you don’t follow that poster requirement, it comes with its own penalties. For example, the federal. Family and medical leave act. If that poster isn’t put up in your workplace, you could get fined at $1,273. Something else to look at is the occupational safety and health administration. Also known as OSHA.

If an employer doesn’t follow OSHA, there are minimum and maximum penalties for different types of violations. One example would be willful violations, which has a minimum. Around $9,500 in penalties and a maximum of around 133,000 in penalties. So I don’t mention these laws to make companies panic, but instead I want you to realize how important it is that your company has at least one person keeping an eye on compliance.

Just someone who understands these laws and is monitoring them and knows of any upcoming laws. So you can make sure that you’re staying on top of that. What I want to talk about next is just ways to stay compliant. There’s a lot of different resources out there. The first ones that I would look at is your local state and federal sites.

So most cities and states have their own sites that review their laws for employers. And a lot of them have developed additional resources that review COVID requirements and how to connect. So it’s really essential to understand how to find those sites and make sure you’re monitoring them. The next thing to look at is federal sites.

So you can review different employment laws or upcoming changes on the department of labor site, the CDC site, OSHA site, the EOC site. There’s just a lot of resources out there and it takes a little bit of digging, but once you find. You can go back and look at that, you know, on a weekly or monthly basis, just to ensure you’re not missing out on anything.

In addition to that, Zenefits does have a lot of, of helpful tools. So if you use our product, I’m going to mention a couple of. The first is the compliance calendar. Now that calendar goes over any sort of federal requirements that you need to make. And when the deadlines are it’s also allows you to customize it.

So you can add in your own company deadlines and any sort of state deadlines that apply to. The next thing to look at is our HR library, which has employment law review sections on every single state. So if you have employees in various states, you can go to that state and see every single law that would apply to you.

And the benefits that apply to your employees. In addition to that, the library has news alerts that go over any sort of federal or state changes that are going to. Uh, company. Now, in addition to this, if you have our advisory service, we do send out a weekly newsletter to let you know about upcoming changes.

And then you can of course, call our advisors. If you have any questions about changes. Another resource that companies may not realize is a lot of legal groups will have their own newsletters or even their own trainings that come with credits that you can earn through HRCI and. Those have been really helpful.

Typically these legal groups will come out with changes or trainings, right? When a new law has popped up. So it’s a nice way for you to get ahead of it and understand how lawyers are responding to these laws. The last thing I’ve mentioned is the state sites may also have webinars and newsletters of their own.

So I would definitely check the. Yeah, before I end, I did want to bring up a new federal mandate. That’s going to affect a lot of employers and does show the ever-changing nature of employment law. And that is the vaccine mandate. So this mandate is going to affect a lot of employers in various ways. But one of the biggest impacts is employers with a hundred and more employees who are now going to either have to require the vaccine or have weekly testing.

So in order to help employees get their vaccine, employers may also need to provide time off to get vaccinated or even recover from those side effects. At this stage of the mandate process, OSHA has submitted their final text rule to the office of management and above budget for. So really we’re just waiting to see what happens next and we will be following up and provide more information around this law as soon as we get it.

My, my hope is that your main takeaway from all of this is that it’s important for employers to make compliance a priority. And while this can be overwhelming, there are resources out there that can help you stay on top of these loss.

Do you have a question for our experts? Click the link in the show notes, or if you’ve got other ideas and feedback about our show, send them to [email protected]


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