CHICAGO — Laws focused on employment and labor are meant to make clear the rights of employees and the responsibilities of employers.
However, with labor regulations being made on federal, state and local levels, too often these rights and responsibilities are as clear as mud.
For example, in Texas, the state legislature is trying to take control of labor regulations to end what proponents say has created a mess with confusing local laws.
Those opposed to the effort say it amounts to state overreach.
Patrick Garcia, president of Division Laundry & Cleaners in San Antonio, is very familiar with the challenges of changing employment laws.
“Our business associations, for example, sued the city of San Antonio for mandating paid sick leave. The state ruled it unconstitutional,” he shares. “Another example was the city allowed four propositions to get on the ballot. Again, the state ruled them unconstitutional.”
As with many things, the events of the past three years have made a mark on labor/employment law and regulations. How has it changed because of the past three years?
How does this affect laundry operators today, and how can they keep track of changes on federal, state and local levels to remain in compliance?
Garcia says that labor law enforcement has changed because the government has been working remotely, even if laundries haven’t.
“This has slowed their investigation and deliberative processes,” he says. “Consequences vary, depending on the law that has been allegedly violated. Some laws have make-whole remedies, such as reinstatement and back pay. Others also provide for compensatory and punitive damages.
“If the dispute goes to a lawsuit and the employer loses, even part of the claim, the employer also has to pay the employee’s attorney fees in many cases.”
“It was interesting because we have different rules of conduct,” says Michael Flores, vice president of human resources for Prudential Overall Supply headquartered in Irvine, California. “We have company policies and procedures. Any of our areas covered by those documents, this was another one that if people violated that protocol, if they subjected other employees or themselves to exposure, beyond what was required by law, we would have to take action.
“And so, we have a corrective disciplinary process that we can move them through. They would go from a written warning to a suspension or something like that. Luckily, we really didn’t see much of that. I think people understood kind of what consequences were but beyond just kind of the procedural stuff.
“People really understood that this is health related, and they didn’t really want to fool around with health exposure for themselves, for their co-workers, once they got back home for members of their family.
“I know that we had to post certain documents on some of the front doors of our locations. If we didn’t have those posted, and if they came over to do an audit, we would be subject probably to fines or something.
“I can’t remember that we had any audits from any of the counties or state agencies or any of the federal folks either. But I do know that there was always kind of that lingering threat, for lack of a better word, and that it was our responsibility to be prepared for that as needed.”
While the tight restrictions of the pandemic have let up, the effects linger. Flores says there was a question that came up recently about mask availability.
“We have locations in Los Angeles County, and we’re still required to provide a certain level of mask upon employee request,” he shares. “And so, while we kind of thought that all of these COVID restrictions were over, that’s not true.
“We really need to stay on top of those, and so that’s where that safety manager and his diligence to really kind of stay on top of those things comes into play. Because our plants are there to do laundry.”
LABOR LAW EFFECTS FROM THE PAST THREE YEARS
“I will say that there is a silver lining in all of this,” says Flores, “and I think that it really put a spotlight on individual and employee health and well-being and safety.
“You see a lot more diligence around folks washing their hands just before lunch and just after lunch. In our different lunchrooms, you see more spray bottles where people can actually use that to spray down the table before and after lunch.
“You see a lot more cleaning and us being a bit more rigorous and in our cleaning schedules around our plants and locations. I think that all of those are outcomes of workplace rules and regulations that were put in and really designed to not have workplaces be these super spreader locations.”
He says that when laundry operations were deemed essential functions and had to remain open, the state provided the regulations that had to be followed.
“We did that because that was the law,” Flores says. “But now that the laws have been relaxed, I’m actually pleasantly surprised to see some of the behavior change at our different operating locations that at least have extended through today. Hopefully, these are habits and behaviors that we will see extended for years.
“So, yes, there were regulations, pieces of legislation, that had us behave differently. We certainly complied with that, and as I said before, I think we picked up some pretty good habits along the way.”
Flores’s key piece of advice for laundry operators working to stay current on labor/employment law is to work with an outside entity.
“I would say partner with an outside law firm,” he shares. “We have a couple that we partner with, and we just concluded an HR audit.
“Sometimes we can’t see beyond ourselves, that we get so embedded in our own operation and we just know that we’ve done things successfully. We’re just used to doing things the way that we know how to do them, and our policies, our employee procedures, our documents, they need a refresh every once in a while.
“While we do our best to keep up with changes in county, state, city and federal laws, we don’t always do the best job because we’re not the experts. And so, we believe that it is worth the investment to partner with an outside firm, generally a law firm, that can really keep up with all of these changes.
“Again, we recently conducted our HR audit took the better part of about eight months, but we’ve cleaned up a number of processes, procedures, and documents, and it’s been a great investment. It is not cheap by any stretch, but we believe that the investment is worth it—not only in terms of compliance but really to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for all of our workforces and teams in all of our locations.”
Garcia concludes, “Most of your problems take care of themselves if you treat people with dignity and respect. Nevertheless, conflicts can arise even in the best of operations.
“Get yourself aligned with a knowledgeable labor and employment lawyer or HR consultant.”
Click HERE to read Part 1 on changes during the pandemic, importance of tracking changes.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR RESOURCES
Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Worker Rights page: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/workers
WHD resources for employers: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/employers
Occupational Safety and Health Laws and Regulations: https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs
OSHA Employer Help: https://www.osha.gov/employers
OSHA Worker Rights and Protections: https://www.osha.gov/workers
Summary of DOL Major Laws: https://www.dol.gov/general/aboutdol/majorlaws
State and local government resources: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/state/state-local-government-resources
Go to DOL.gov for the most up to date information, tools and news. For questions, call the department at 866-4-USA-DOL (866-487-2365).
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected] .