n Business, It Pays to Know the HR Law

All businesses face change and challenges, but savvy business owners can anticipate potential obstacles and apply solutions early on, at least from a business perspective. Employment issues, however, are often harder to identify.

That’s why it pays to understand the laws governing the employer/employee relationship, says Brian J. Manetta, an associate with Mets Schiro & McGovern, based in Iselin.

Manetta will give a presentation titled “Protecting Your Business — An Employment Law Recap” at the Princeton Merchants Association general membership meeting on Tuesday, March 24, from 8 to 10 a.m. in the Princeton Public Library community room. For information, E-mail info@princetonmerchants.org. The association assists local businesses by providing educational programs, collaborative marketing, and communication tools.

The meeting will also include two related presentations: Doug Dreger from the MacLean Agency will give a talk on “Making Sense of Healthcare Reform: What it Means For Your Small Business.” The PMA member spotlight will feature Catharine Vaucher from HiTops, a youth-focused healthcare and education center. Vaucher is the director of development and marketing and race director for the organization’s Princeton Half Marathon, now in its third year. She will discuss ways merchants can be a part of the next marathon event in October with an expected 1,500 runners and 4,000 spectators.

Manetta’s presentation will not only familiarize employers with laws governing the employer/employee relationship, it will help business owners prepare for and prevent potential issues.

Employer-written handbooks and well-drafted policies are beneficial for both employees and employers, Manetta says. These documents provide procedures for the resolution of common problems and can insulate employers from liability. For example, the Fair Labor Standards Act provides a safe-harbor period for employers who inadvertently pay their employees incorrectly, provided the policy is set forth in a handbook. In addition, a well-drafted complaint procedure can help avoid liability when an employee makes a harassment complaint, if the procedure is followed.

The Fair Labor Standards Act also requires employers to provide premium overtime compensation to non-exempt employees. Determining whether an employee is exempt or non-exempt is more complex than defining whether an employee is paid on a salaried or hourly basis, as Manetta will explain in his presentation.

The Family Medical Leave Act and the New Jersey Family Leave Act apply to certain employers (generally those with more than 50 employees in a limited geographical area). The FMLA, enacted in 1993, provides an employee with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job protected leave to care for either themselves or a family member with a serious health condition. While the state FLA provides similar protection, it only applies when an employee requires leave to care for a family member. Although the required documentation for both laws can be rather daunting, Manetta says they should be followed closely.

Recently the federal Department of Labor announced a rule changing the definition of spouse to include same-sex spouses. The new regulation becomes effective Friday, March 27, and looks to the law of the state in which the marriage took place to determine whether the FMLA applies.

Manetta will also cover statutes that prohibit workplace discrimination and will provide practice pointers for employers. These statues include the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Manetta, who grew up in East Brunswick, traces his interest in law to his college years when he worked in the mail room of a law firm during the summer. There he became fascinated with the cases and briefs he read during down time. His decision to focus on labor law was partly influenced by his parents, who are teachers in the East Brunswick school system and active members of the New Jersey Education Association.

At Ithaca College in New York Manetta studied history and was a four-year varsity letter winner on the football team. He attended Seton Hall School of Law where he was the editor in chief of a sports and entertainment law journal.

Manetta says he was drawn to the firm he works for today, Mets Schiro & McGovern, because of its track record in representing employees and labor unions and its focus on dispute resolution. In addition to the practice of law, Manetta teaches “Contracts in the Entertainment Industry” at Rutgers University. He is admitted to practice law in New Jersey and New York; the U.S. District Court for New Jersey, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The main advantage of keeping current and understanding the employer/employee relationship is that business owners can be proactive instead of reactive, Manetta says.

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