In representing healthcare providers, we are frequently called upon to assist with labor and employment legal matters. Unfortunately we are typically called in to assist after would could have been a minor issue has become a major problem — what I like to call the “clean up” phase. Not surprisingly, however, it is often much more effective, and less expensive, to engage legal counsel to help minimize labor and employment risks upfront — before they become liabilities at all.

Many small and medium-sized medical practices and other provider organizations simply don’t realize the significance of labor and employment laws. Federal and state laws impose a multitude of employment-related requirements on employers, and afford employees a variety of protections. The range of “protected classes” of employees under federal and state law is quite broad. These include protections against discrimination based on age, sex, disability or sexual orientation, to name a few.

On top of anti-discrimination protections, labor and employment laws affect how certain categories of employees may be paid (salaried or hourly), whether and how overtime wages must be calculated and paid and what an employee is entitled to upon termination of employment.

Many of these laws tend to favor the employee as, from a public policy view, lawmakers tend to believe that the employer will have greater resources and therefore a greater ability to do harm to an individual employee than vice versa. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the employer to take great care to ensure that it follows these laws closely and applies them consistently to its employees.

One way to ensure compliance with this complex set of laws is to work with an experienced employment lawyer to audit your policies and procedures to ensure that they are consistent with the law and that you are applying them appropriately in your organization. Once it is determined that the appropriate policies and procedures are in place, staff should be trained on those policies and procedures and training records should be retained to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to compliance.

As with compliance programs in other areas of the law, some advance auditing and carefully planning and implementation can go a long way in managing what could be very costly labor and employment risks.

Todd A. Rodriguez