Whether you’re working with independent contractors or hiring your first employee, building a business team brings with it a whole new area for compliance: labor and employment law.
Labor and employment laws cover everything from payroll and workers compensation to workplace posters to preventing discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
Unfortunately, there is no single government agency that oversees or enforces labor and employment laws, which in turn means there isn’t a central government source for the small or new employer to turn to for purposes of determining which laws do or do not apply to them. Further complicating matters for the small or new employer is the fact that different laws apply to employers of different sizes. The magic number is not the same, and it’s not always a “high” number like 15 or 20. Many of the laws, particularly at the state or city level, apply to employers with only a single employee.
While these factors don’t make it easy for young businesses to achieve compliance with labor and employment laws, the unfortunate truth is that difficulty is not a defense to a claim that a business violated the law. Here, we offer three early markers to assist young NYC businesses in identifying when they should be active in their labor and employment law compliance efforts.
Marker Number 1: Before you hire your first worker.
Once you’ve decided to hire your first worker (as either an employee or independent contractor), you should be talking to a labor and employment lawyer. A number of New York State labor laws, predominantly affecting wages, apply to employers with only one employee, as do a number of payroll obligations, such as tax withholding, wage reporting, and unemployment insurance contributions. The federal Immigration Reform and Control Act, which requires employers to verify the eligibility of their employees to work in the U.S., and the NYC Earned Sick Time Act, which mandates providing sick time to employees, also apply to employers with only one employee.
While these same laws and obligations don’t apply to independent contractors, too often independent contractors are misclassified and are really employees. A check-in with counsel before hiring any worker can help ensure that a young business wards off the many problems attendant with misclassification, and otherwise assist with compliance with the applicable laws.
Marker Number 2: Before you hire your fourth employee.
NYC employers should talk to a labor and employment lawyer about further compliance measures before they hire their fourth employee. At four employees, more labor and employment laws apply, including the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law, both of which prohibit discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and also require accommodation of disabled and pregnant employees.
Marker Number 3: Before you hire your fifteenth employee.
NYC employers should talk to a labor and employment lawyer about additional compliance measures before they hire their fifteenth employee. At fifteen employees, federal anti-discrimination laws such as Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act apply. At twenty employees, still more laws will apply, including the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act and two additional provisions of the New York State Labor Law requiring blood donation leave and bone marrow donation leave.