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Are Your Labor Law Posters Creating Liability for Your Business?

Federal, state and city laws require all employers (even those with only one employee) to display labor law posters informing employees of their rights under the laws.  Where there is a law on the subject, there is usually a posting requirement.  In turn, this means there are many posting requirements.

Posters wouldn’t be a big deal if all employers were subject to the same posting requirements, but they are not.  Posting requirements differ by jurisdiction, employer size and by industry.  What’s more, not all of the posters are ready to go.  In other words, some require customization by the employer because the poster first requires an employer to adopt a particular personnel policy (for example, a policy regarding blood donation leave), and then to post that personnel policy.

Ready-to-go posters can be obtained for free from the government agencies (just check out any of their websites), but between knowing what posters are applicable, and dealing with space limitations of displaying so many posters, many employers end up purchasing laminated posters for tens of dollars to a few hundred dollars from the many vendors hawking them online.  I don’t blame employers for purchasing these posters – they’re relatively inexpensive, they’re convenient, and they’re usually accompanied by some “compliance guarantee” or representation that the posters are attorney-reviewed.

Despite these compliance guarantees, what I’ve found is that these laminated posters meet a very loose definition of compliant.  They’re typically one size fits all by federal and/or state requirements, which means that smaller employers that may not be subject to every poster requirement imaginable end up displaying posters about employee rights under laws that don’t even apply to the employment relationship.  In addition, the posters don’t contain any necessary customizations.  And, in some cases, the posters pertain to employee rights under laws that hadn’t become law.  Over-posting may not seem like a big deal, but when the posting notifies your staff about their right to unionize, and there is no such posting requirement, it’s quite a huge deal actually.

So what’s an employer to do?  Forego the postings altogether?  Definitely not.  If an employer is found not adhering to state and federal regulations requiring postings, then the employer may receive fines and penalties for non-compliance.   In addition, failing to have required posters could be used as evidence in discrimination, minimum wage, or other employment cases to prove violations were intentional, and entitling plaintiff employees to much larger damage awards.

Employers should keep posting, and also document which posters are displayed, the date of posting, and the location of posting (for use as a possible defense down the road).  Any employer without the resources to devote to poster compliance shouldn’t feel ashamed by purchasing laminated posters.  However, those employers should recognize and weigh the potential risks in potentially over-posting.  If over-posting is a concern, the employer should take the time and effort to communicate to the poster vendor that they want to purchase a poster containing only those postings applicable to employers with X number of employees.  These poster companies market themselves on how they take the guess work out of poster compliance for the employer, and any reputable poster vendor should comply with this request.