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April 22, 2019 Experts Corner

How small businesses can keep up with legislative changes

Employment laws continue to evolve across the country, and Connecticut is no different.

Last year, the General Assembly passed a law prohibiting employers from asking applicants about salary history and, during this year's session, lawmakers are considering several proposed bills that may impact employers across the state, including establishing a paid family and medical leave program and increasing the state's minimum wage.

When coupled with ongoing changes at the federal level, these legislative updates can feel confusing and overwhelming to many small-company leaders. However, while new legislation can sometimes leave room for interpretation, it is vital for small business owners to adhere to these laws to avoid costly fines or other consequences.

Here are a few tips to help small business owners remain compliant while navigating an evolving legal landscape.

Read the law thoroughly

As simple as it sounds, some of the most pressing questions business owners may have can be answered by carefully reading the text of the law.

Many small business owners may not have a dedicated legal or HR team on-site, meaning they should commit ample time to reading and understanding all facets of the legislation. Company leaders should look for important details, such as whether the law allows exemptions based on workforce size and which employees will be directly impacted by the changes.

Take a cautious approach

Frequently, laws can be interpreted in several different ways and, as a result, business owners might be unsure how to stay compliant. In these cases, a conservative approach may be the smartest approach.

For instance, if a business owner is uncertain whether or not a new law applies to a specific member on staff, it is often best to assume it does. This approach can help to avoid costly mistakes in the future.

Look for special circumstances

The workforce is constantly adopting new trends and lifestyle changes, causing legislative guidelines to adapt accordingly. For example, as workers become more mobile and change jobs more frequently, some paid-leave laws require employers to reinstate a returning employee's previously accrued time off if he or she rejoins the company within a certain time period.

This is merely an example of fine print that employers should be careful not to overlook, when and if Connecticut passes sick-leave legislation.

Consider making broader changes

Businesses impacted by a new law may determine that it is easier to adapt their overall systems, rather than implementing new policies just to bridge the gap.

For instance, if faced with a paid time off program, Connecticut companies may want to consider combining vacation and sick leave to stay compliant. This can also make it easier for employers to track one bank of time off for each worker instead of tracking two separate systems.

Communicate clearly with employees

New legislation can be confusing to both employers and staff. Employees may feel uncertain about wage changes, time-off allowances or the future of their job at the company.

To assuage these concerns, company leaders should prioritize communication with their workers and be as open as possible about changes to company policy. Discussing how proposed changes may affect the day-to-day operations or processes within an organization can help avoid confusion while showing that management is prepared for the change.

Whether small business owners in Connecticut like them or not, legislative changes are inevitable. By preparing for changes and planning for impacts to their organization, business owners can save both time and money while ensuring compliance with new legislation.

Eric Cormier is a manager of HR services with Insperity, which provides outsourced human resources.

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