The Perils of Managing a Multi-state Workforce


Recent news articles and court decisions provide examples of situations in which businesses operating in a number of states find themselves in legal hot water for being unfamiliar with local law.

This article highlights a few of the many issues such employers face and suggests some strategies for managing the concerns.

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 that decides to cross the border to take on a project, it is incumbent upon the business to be fully aware of the laws that govern interaction with a workforce. Failure to do so can result in civil fines and penalties or worse, lawsuits by aggrieved employees. This is not an easy task as, in most states, the information is not neatly contained in one place.

For 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

Complying with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is only the beginning. Many important issues related to compensation of employees and work conditions are not covered by the FLSA which is itself complex. Most of the mundane day-to-day compliance is governed by state law. Even in the New England states there are inconsistencies concerning rules for final pay, minimum pay for employees who show up for work, deductions from pay, meal breaks and, of course, minimum wage.

Leaves of absence and sick leave laws form a vortex that can be perilous to maneuver. In addition to FMLA, parental leave and now paid family leave, there are laws about leave for crime victims, victims of domestic violence, first responders, parents of small children and military personnel. It is critical for employers to be conversant in the various provisions of state and federal leave law, keeping in mind the thresholds for eligibility, the qualifying reasons for the leave, whether time off is paid or unpaid and the duration of the leave.

How does a company with a multi-state workforce manage risk effectively?

  • Find an experienced employment lawyer. Rely on her not only in times of trouble but on a proactive and forward-looking basis. Law firms provide timely information to clients about law changes or perilous traps for the unwary through client alerts, seminars and blogs. Subscribe to them; read them.
  • Make sure your human resources department is well connected and well educated. Support memberships in professional organizations. Send them to some conferences.
  • Be invested in the local community. Interact with business organizations to learn local workforce challenges and gain insight into what challenges employers the most.
  • Never assume that what is permissible in one state or under federal law is permissible elsewhere.

Charla is chair of McLane Middleton’s Employment Law Practice Group. She has extensive background addressing litigated and non-litigated employment issues such as discrimination, harassment, employee classification and wage and hour claims. Author Contact: (603) 628-1363

Categories: Legal Advice