HR Management

Federal/State Employment Law Conflicts: Taming the Two-Headed Monster

A small publisher tackles federal/state employment law conflicts … and comes up with a classic solution.

A recent article in Daily Advisor discussed the practice of “toggling.”

No, it’s not a new dance craze, though many HR professionals probably wish it was. It’s the constant switching back and forth that HR managers have to do to understand and meet both federal and state employment requirements affecting their workplace.

Neither government has made this easy to do. The laws often overlap, and sometimes conflict, with no guidance from either side on what to do about it. One editor here calls the problem “the two-headed monster.”

Moreover, these conflicts are found in some of the most important HR areas, including discrimination, wage and hour, and leave. Follow the federal standards exclusively and while Uncle Sam will smile on you, others won’t.

Those others would include workers in Washington State where, at the federal minimum wage of $5.15, you’d be underpaying them by $2.48 an hour, because Washington’s minimum is $7.63. A worker you disciplined for smoking on the job in Colorado wouldn’t be happy either, since workplace discrimination against smokers is illegal there. In fact, virtually every state has laws that trump the federal in one area or another.

Differences often not well publicized

Those differences are not always well publicized. While the U.S. Department of Labor is pretty good at communicating new federal requirements, the same isn’t always true of the states. New laws, for example, are often published in obscure state journals you definitely won’t find on your local newsstand, and possibly can’t find at all.

BLR editors became aware of the problems of knowing both federal and state standards nearly two decades ago. Fortunately, they also became aware of a small publisher who’d solved the problem. As luck would have it, he was right in our Connecticut backyard.

What the publisher did was create a reference organized by HR topic, not by law or other means. Then he put those topics in alphabetical order so that, whether your interest was “absenteeism,” “background checks,” “compensation administration,” or any of nearly 200 other HR subjects, it was as easy to find as ABC.

Then came the innovation that really caught our eye: For each topic, he wrote plain-English summaries of, first, the federal requirements, then right next to them, how things differed in Connecticut.

With one stroke, he’d eliminated multiple law books spread on the desk, endless calls to agencies, and all the frustration and wasted time that accompanied them. He also proved, once again, that the simplest ideas are often the brilliant ones.

The publisher called his work “What to Do About Personnel Problems in Connecticut.”

In short order, BLR acquired the rights to expand this idea nationally and did so with gusto. There are now individual editions for 49 of the states plus the District of Columbia. You tell us where you are, and get the edition you need.

Updating on a massive scale

Since laws change, every one of those editions has to be revised every year. It’s a massive job, with a whole staff of editors to do it. They mail subscribers of each edition six updates a year (300 in all) and also send both a national and a state newsletter each month. Annual reports of surveys of compensation and benefit levels in the subscriber’s state are also part of the program.

Most important to us, more than 20,000 HR professionals have honored us by accepting what’s now called What to Do About Personnel Problems in [Your State], into their offices. They’ve even given it a nickname, “the HR Red Book.” A nice compliment, we think.

Perhaps you noticed that we only offer the program for 49 states. Which one don’t we serve? It’s Connecticut, of course. The original publisher still does that edition. And he still does a brilliant job of it.