Manufactured products, particularly forged products, simply cannot reach their intended market without the labor of humans. That means there is always an opportunity for labor and employment issues to divert management’s attention away from the critical operational issues of the forge. Manufacturers are often prime targets for organized labor issues including, but not limited to, unions, collective bargaining and strikes.
Forges and other manufacturers can face varied difficult legal challenges and laws affecting their respective businesses. Frequently, these issues can cross into multiple areas of legal practice, which can complicate solutions and, as noted, divert an undesired amount of attention away from forging operations. This is often because labor and employment law is not contained within a neat package of rules and regulations that is easy to reference. Instead, rules protecting employers and employees are scattered in different sections of codes and regulations that are often regulated by separate agencies.
As a result, many employers and employees can be frustrated while attempting to get their arms around the laws, regulations and protections available to both parties. Should the time come for the forge to enforce its rights, both employers and employees need to know their respective rights and obligations. It also helps to have at least a limited knowledge of some points of the law so that employers and employees do not spend undesired amounts of time finding the laws and regulations.
The following is a summary of some portions of employment law that are frequently referenced. As you are likely aware, this column does not constitute legal advice, and you should consult your business attorney for further counsel with labor and employment issues.
Health and Safety Regulations
Keeping workers safe on the job is an important concern. To help ensure workplace safety, there are laws that work to protect both employers and employees from conditions that are not deemed to be safe, persons or institutions that cut corners, faulty equipment, etc. As has been mentioned in previous columns in this space, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA) is configured to set a baseline for employee workplace safety. Regulations of OSHA help to ensure worker and workplace safety by requiring employers provide their workers a place of employment free from recognized hazards to safety and health, such as exposure to toxic chemicals, excessive noise levels, mechanical dangers, heat or cold stress, or unsanitary conditions. OSHA regulations can be found online.
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. This entitlement can be considered temporary job security in the event of unexpected health events. FMLA helps make it possible for workers to take time off to care for sick relatives. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) provides employees a right to pay premiums for and keep the group health insurance that the employee may otherwise lose after they reduce their work hours, quit their job or get fired.
Of all the labor laws out there, anti-discrimination regulations are the category that is often viewed as the most spread-out over a variety of laws. Most of those rules come from the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These laws help protect employees from discrimination based on a number of factors. For example, issues such as race, ethnicity and age cannot be a factor when it comes to employment. For employees with disabilities, employers must make reasonable accommodations to allow those employees to continue working, helping to make the workplace more inclusive for everyone.
The Right to Fair Pay
If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that without fair pay, many of us would not remain at our jobs for very long. However, that pay is guaranteed to a certain extent. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 mandates the federal minimum wage, which applies to most employees. Not only does it dictate minimum hourly pay, it also lays out the 40-hour work week for hourly employees and specifies the terms of overtime pay. Additionally, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 helps ensure that there is no wage disparity based upon sex.
Unfortunately, the laws and regulations cannot guarantee that an employee or an employer will comply with the written standards. Both employers and employees should work together to maintain the rights of each party.
David Resser is a patent attorney with Cooper Legal Group LLC of Independence, Ohio. He has expertise as a mechanical engineer in foundry equipment manufacturing. He can be reached at DResser@cooperlegalgroup.com.