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What Happens If Employers Violate Labor Laws?

Employers, including small businesses, face a complex challenge when it comes to complying with labor laws. These laws are not just a matter of following a single set of rules. Labor laws operate on multiple levels, including federal, state, and local, which together create a complex regulatory environment in the United States.

The objective of these laws is to protect the rights and well-being of employees, ensuring their safety and health. For instance, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was a landmark legislation designed to prevent workplace discrimination based on factors such as race, gender, and religion. This act guarantees fair and equitable treatment for employees, regardless of their background.

Similarly, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 set crucial standards for employment practices at the federal level. It sets out the federal minimum wage and outlines rules for overtime pay, which benefits specific categories of workers. These regulations collectively fall under the broad category of labor or employment law, emphasizing the importance of maintaining fair and lawful practices within the workforce.

CoAdvantage O Dot - Secondary Logo Potential Consequences of Violating Labor Laws

  1. Financial Penalties
  2. Legal Costs
  3. Unfavorable Legal Rulings
  4. Reputational Problems 

The government takes these laws seriously, regardless of their onerous or challenging nature for employers. Failure to comply can lead to a range of serious consequences. What do employers who violate labor law risk?

Financial Penalties

Most labor laws allow for penalties. For instance, the Department of Labor states that employers who willfully violate minimum wage laws may face a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation. Violations of child labor protections carry a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per employee subject to a violation.

Based on the specific compliance requirement, employers may compensate employees with back pay, the value of lost benefits, and interest payments. The exact compensation will depend on the specific compliance requirement in each case, as outlined in both federal laws and state laws. 

Legal Costs

Further, violations of employment law may lead employees to file private lawsuits against the employer. This means the employer may be responsible for legal fees and, if they lose the case, damages.

The Society for Human Resource Management reported that an employer's "failure to maintain accurate time records" led to a $5.8 million FLSA jury award. The Supreme Court later upheld this jury award.

Unfavorable Legal Rulings

In addition to costs such as court fees, settlement expenses, or payouts to juries, legal disputes that result from violations of employment laws can lead to other legal consequences for employers. To put it simply, when a court rules against an employer, it can disrupt their normal business operations in various ways.

In 2018, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) demonstrated this by taking a proactive stance. The NLRB urged its regional offices to "aggressively pursue temporary injunctions to stop categories of potentially unfair labor practices." Legal findings can significantly disrupt an employer's ability to conduct business as normal, impacting their wage rates and collective bargaining efforts.

Now, in the most extreme cases, especially when the violations of employment laws are particularly widespread, courts may resort to even more drastic measures. They could go as far as temporarily shutting down the business.

Reputational Problems

Apart from the potential financial and legal consequences, labor law violations can attract unwanted media attention, leading to increased scrutiny of a business's behavior, especially in the age of social media. In other words, when a business is in the spotlight for not following labor laws, it can have a significant impact on how people perceive them.

A real-life instance of this occurred when Starbucks gained national attention because of the complaints about its labor practices. In 2023, Starbucks lost 16 of 17 cases decided by the National Labor Relations Board for violations including worker intimidation, unlawful discipline, and more.

The impact of media coverage can vary widely. No employer wants to find itself in a public relations crisis, a situation where their actions are criticized publicly. Such a crisis can potentially disrupt business operations and, even worse discourage customers from supporting the business.

Key Takeaways

It's crucial for employers, including labor organizations, to follow labor laws to avoid serious consequences. These laws protect workers at the federal, state, and local levels. Violating them can lead to financial penalties, legal costs, unfavorable rulings, and damage to a company's reputation.

Employers who break labor laws risk significant financial penalties. For instance, the Department of Labor may impose civil penalties for willful violations of minimum wage and child labor laws. Depending on the specific requirement, employees may also have the right to receive compensation, such as back pay, lost benefits, and interest payments.

Furthermore, employment law violations may lead to private lawsuits filed by employees. This can make employers liable for legal fees and potential damages. Additionally, in certain instances, labor law violations can attract media attention, adversely affecting a company's reputation.

Businesses must follow labor laws to maintain a good work environment, protect their reputation, and avoid legal issues.

CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with outsourced HR services. We provide a wide range of PEO services, including HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To explore how our strategic HR function can drive business growth potential in your company, contact us today.