10 answers to your HR questions
Nothing trips up your ability to practice great medicine like a citation from the labor board. State and federal labor departments don't always do a great job of educating employers about the laws or informing them of changes. In addition, it's hard to know when state laws supersede federal laws and vice versa.
Let's face it: A practicing veterinarian just doesn't have time to read up on all the rules of human resources. But you have even less time to deal with the aftermath when you step in a labor act pitfall. Here's a recap of the most commonly asked questions, plus what you need to know to keep yourself in the clinic—and out of trouble with the labor board.
1. Do all states follow the same wage and hour laws?The answer is yes and no. While all states must, at minimum, adhere to the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act regarding pay, minimum wages, and overtime, individual states may create laws that are more restrictive than the federal standards. Employers must follow whichever laws are the most restrictive. (See HR Web resources to find a list of Web sites that list your state's guidelines.)
2. Must I provide breaks to hourly employees?
The Fair Labor Standards Act doesn't require an employer to provide a meal break, and most states don't require rest or lunch breaks either. That said, some states have very specific requirements for rest and lunch breaks. For example, Colorado requires an uninterrupted meal break of at least 30 (unpaid) minutes if the employee's work shift exceeds five consecutive hours of work. Check your specific state laws at http://www.dol.gov/whd/state/state.htm.
3. Can I keep employees from discussing wages with each other?
In short, no. I know many hospital manuals state that employees can't discuss wages with others, and it's a sore point for many practice owners. But the federal government, through the National Labor Relations Act, protects employees' rights to discuss their wages and working conditions. An employee may not discuss another employee's wages but may disclose and discuss his or her own. Furthermore, employers may not require an employee to sign a confidentiality agreement or require employees to refrain from discussing wages, and you can't discharge or discipline an employee for disclosing his or her wages.
Several states, including California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, and Michigan, have their own employment laws that protect employees and ensure their right to discuss their own wages with other employees.
4. If my employee procedures manual states that the hospital won't pay unauthorized overtime, do I have to pay it anyway?
Yes! If an employee works overtime, whether authorized or not, those hours must be paid at 1.5 times the employee's regular hourly pay. You may initiate disciplinary action against the employee for not following the policy, but you still must pay up. And remember, overtime is probably the single biggest issue that puts employers in the labor board doghouse.
5. Are any hours an employee works over 40 in a week considered overtime?
Yes. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, 40 hours in a week is the maximum an hourly, non-exempt employee can work; beyond that, you must pay 1.5 times the hourly rate. You do have the discretion to start your work week on any day you'd like, but it must be a consistent, defined seven-day period.
Several states have established their own standards. For example, California regulations calculate overtime as anything over an eight-hour day, unless the veterinary practice has received authorization by the state to create an alternative workweek.