With outsourcing commonplace and freelancers fulfilling jobs once held by employees, employment laws have become increasingly important to both small business owners and the self-employed.
Federal Employment Laws
Employment laws are quite complex and cover a broad range of areas, from taxes to business contracts to discrimination. Fortunately, legal and government Web sites have improved, providing useful information that is accessible for the layperson. While these resources are not a substitute for professional legal counsel, they offer a means of education, thus resulting in potential savings of hundreds to thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees.
Department of Labor: Elaws Advisor
The U.S. Department of Labor provides a free program named elaws, which stands for employment laws assistance for workers and small businesses. Elaws is an interactive program that mimics the interaction one might have with a labor representative, providing both online questions and answers. Foremost, elaws is designed to assist both employers and workers in understanding their rights and responsibilities under federal employment laws. A considerable topic selection exists but represents a modest proportion of federal employment law. A small sampling of what you will find, includes:
- Small Business Retirement Savings Advisor
- Health Benefits Advisor
- Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Advisor
- Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Advisor
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces a variety of laws related to fair pay, hiring practices and discrimination. The EEOC enforces fair employment practices based on age, disability, national origin, race, and religion, as well as protect the rights of pregnant women. Additionally, the EEOC is a source you would turn to for sexual harassment issues. For more information or to file a charge, visit the EEOC Web site.
IRS: Employees Versus Independent Contractors
The IRS is an especially useful resource for employer tax laws, covering common questions regarding employee status. For tax purposes, the work of independent contractors must meet certain guidelines. If an employee is wrongly classified as an independent contractor, the business owner is held liable for employment-related taxes and may be subject to IRS penalties. Four types of employment relationships exist between a business and service provider. For more information on these classifications, and to determine the correct employment status, see the IRS publications: Independent Contractors vs. Employees.
State Employment Laws
Workplace issues and employee benefit concerns may fall under state jurisdiction. Each state maintains a labor department Web site and these sites vary in their ease of use and utility. State laws include issues, such as:
- Unemployment claims
- Workman's compensation insurance
- Safety standards
- Minimum wage standards
- State or public employee issues and benefits
A list of state labor office Web sites and state statues are maintained by Cornell Law School.
Contracts and Lawyers
FindLaw is a professional resource for both legal professionals and the public. One useful self-help area contains a variety of business contracts from a multitude of organizations. These documents are useful when drafting legal contracts and for referencing employment laws. Additional FindLaw resources exist, and the site is a popular resource for finding legal counsel.
When Do You Need a Lawyer?
Nolo is a respected legal service that offers informative articles on a variety of topics, including human resource concerns. A good starting point for business owners is the article, When Do I Need an Employment Lawyer? and Ten Tips for Avoiding Legal Trouble with Employees.
More Legal Resources
You can find information on employment laws at a plethora of legal-related Web sites. Some are maintained by amateurs running ad-supported sites with poor quality information. For the best results, begin with governmental, institutional and non-profit legal Web sites as well as well-known names in the legal industry.