On February 1, 2019 the Keene Sentinel reported that a Massachusetts construction company had been hit with more than $64,000 in fines after an audit conducted by the New Hampshire Department of Labor. Although the bulk of the fines were related to the misclassification of employees as independent contractors, there were also a number of recordkeeping violations found.
The Keene Sentinel article devotes significant attention to the problems of trying to classify individuals as independent contractors under NH state law, a very difficult burden to meet. The result of the audit and the fines imposed on the business, however, showcase how difficult it is for businesses who typically do not operate in a state to establish a workforce there and be in compliance with state laws.
In comparison to many other states, New Hampshire is highly regulated and has a myriad of state laws and regulations governing the employer/employee relationship. Not only do these laws differ from state to state, they also co-exist with federal laws addressing the same issues, but sometimes in different ways. From a national chain with locations in every state, to a small business with remote employees working from their homes to a small construction company which decides to cross the border to take on a project, it is incumbent upon the business to be fully aware of the laws which govern interaction with a workforce. Failure to do so can result in civil fines and penalties or worse, law suits by aggrieved employees. This is not an easy task as in most states, the information is not neatly contained in one place.
By way of example, more than 25 states, counties, and municipalities have enacted paid sick leave legislation, and the requirements differ. Many states, including New Hampshire and Massachusetts, have laws indicating when a terminated employee needs to paid; but the time frames are not the same.
How does a company with a multi-state workforce manage these issues?
- Businesses should consult with experienced employment counsel when considering a move to a new state. Being proactive by reviewing recordkeeping requirements, parental leave laws, regulations about time off is critical and can avoid trouble.
- Employers should be particularly vigilant if the company does not have a strong management or HR presence in a state where it employs people. Attention to detail, knowledge of the workforce and the issues which may arise, and proactive business sense are critical.
- It is a good idea for the business to become invested in the local community where it does business. Interacting with local human resource and business organizations as well as the Chamber of Commerce will make business representatives aware of workforce challenges facing local businesses and give insight into the particular laws or regulations which challenge employers the most.
- It is also important to read! Subscribing to blogs and newsletters, even reading the local papers, can provide important information about upcoming or recent changes in the law.
Most importantly, companies doing business in one state should not assume that what they have done there will be acceptable, even across the border in a neighboring state. The law which is most protective to the employee will apply when two potentially applicable laws collide, and it is critical to know them both to stay out of legal trouble.