While ignorance is bliss, it is never an excuse for not knowing the law. In other words, a court will not care whether an employer understood its legal obligations when deciding whether to impose liability for a violation of the law: the court will find that the employer is responsible for knowing, understanding, and complying with its legal obligations.
Labor Law Violations Where Ignorance of the Law Is Not an Excuse
Take these situations involving violations of labor laws, for example:
- In one recent case, a California court failed to excuse an employer for its ignorance of an increase to a local minimum wage ordinance. The company did not realize that it was supposed to pay additional wages based on the increase, so it did not pay its employees appropriately. The court found that the company’s failure to know about the increase did not excuse it from liability for not paying employees those additional funds. As a result, the employer had to not only pay the overdue wages but also a penalty for failing to pay the money on time.
- A New York restaurant hired servers and told them they would pay a set amount for a full day or a half-day of work. On the job, the servers received tips, but the employer did not track the tip amounts. The employer also failed to track the number of hours the employees worked or to document any time records. When some servers quit, they alleged that the restaurant had not paid the minimum wage or overtime pay. The company claimed that as a small business, it was too hard to stay in compliance with all the applicable laws. The court held the restaurant liable for its violations.
- In some states, employers who pay employees who quit based on their regular payroll schedule are breaking the law. Certain states require employers to issue a final paycheck within a specific amount of time and will charge penalties, plus interest, for employers that do not comply.
What Should Employers Do to Avoid Lawsuits Like These?
Here are three steps that employers can take to ensure that they remain in compliance with the latest labor and employment laws:
- Monitor the laws: Stay aware of the latest federal, state, and local labor law changes. Doing so will help you remain in compliance and know if your labor law posters reflect the most recent changes to these laws.
- Train: Make sure that your managers and supervisors are aware of the applicable laws and follow up to confirm their compliance.
- Update your policies and procedures: Check whether all of your employment policies track the latest posting requirements (changes to the law): the most common changes involve wage and hour laws, like the minimum wage.