Fact or Fiction? Test Your Employment Law Knowledge
by Ann Potratz
Federal employment laws are complicated, often made even more so by the many myths and misunderstandings that surround them.
Test your knowledge below.
Employers can fire employees without a good reason
Fact. Sure, employers can fire at-will employees for just about any reason, as long as it’s not discriminatory. If an employee wears a purple shirt, and his supervisor really hates purple, he can technically be let go for it. But why would you want to run a business that way? Just because you can let someone go for something trivial doesn’t mean you should. It’s a waste of time and resources for the company, and it’s a morale killer for the staff. Instead, stick to documenting performance and conduct issues, and build a strong case for termination whenever needed. That way, if the employee tries to sue, saying his purple shirt was protected for religious reasons, you can show that he was actually terminated for repeatedly violating your attendance policy (or something similar).
Vacation doesn’t need to be paid out at separation
Fact. Federal law does not outline any requirements for offering or paying out vacation time. Employers that choose to offer vacation time may do so in accordance with the terms and conditions of their company policy (or past practices), including whether to pay out unused time when employees resign or are terminated. Some states, however, consider accrued vacation time to be a wage that employers must pay out upon employment separation, so be sure to check the rules in the states where you operate.
Employees who want FMLA leave must ask for it
Fiction. If an employee requests time off for medical reasons but doesn’t mention FMLA, the employer’s off the hook, right? Wrong. Direct notice of the need for leave to an employer is not always required. It is enough that an employer knows of the employee’s need for leave; the employee does not need to mention FMLA. Once an employee gives the employer notice of a need for leave (which can come in many forms), the FMLA imposes a duty on the employer to conduct further investigation to determine whether the proposed leave in fact qualifies as FMLA leave.
It’s illegal not to give lunch breaks for 8-hour shifts
Fiction. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not mandate that employers provide meal or rest breaks. If an employer chooses to allow breaks, the FLSA prohibits the employer from forcing the employee to clock out for breaks that are less than 20 minutes long. For longer breaks, the employer may require employees to clock out. Some states set their own rules for meal and break periods, so employers should be aware of those requirements.
Background checks may only go back seven years
Fiction. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), any employer using a third-party Credit Reporting Agency (CRA) to conduct a background check must adhere to a set of strict rules. An often-misunderstood clause in the FCRA states that CRAs may not report criminal information other than convictions that are older than seven years. For example, if an applicant was arrested but never charged with a crime nine years ago, your CRA may not report that information. However, all convictions, no matter how old, may be reported and considered when making final employment decisions.