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What Employment & Human Resource Challenges are Unique to Associations?

Posted by ISAE on Feb 11, 2015 12:00:00 PM

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wilsonAmy Wilson, attorney at law at Frost Brown Todd LLC, will be speaking about employment law and human resources on February 26 at our afternoon workshop “Hot Topics in Legal and Risk Management.” Here she shares challenges in employment law and human resources that are unique to associations.

1. You, too, are subject to state and federal employment laws.
One of the greatest employment and human resources challenges unique to associations is that associations aren’t unique when it comes to state and federal employment laws. Associations, like other companies, are primarily focused on the business — providing services to their members, being a resource for the community and engaging in philanthropy — and too often, obligations under state and federal employment laws are overlooked. When an employment lawsuit finds its way to the desk of an executive director, he/she is often shocked to see that the association, an organization that does so much good, is accused of being bad.

Associations, like all other non-profit and for-profit companies, are required to meet all federal and state employment laws, including: the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the National Labor Relations Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. It is important for executive directors to stay ahead of the curve on employment issues and ensure the association is in compliance with laws.

2. There’s no such thing as free labor.
Another unique issue of concern to associations is determining when an individual is a true “volunteer” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Associations host a large number of events, whether they are for charity, professional development or networking, and members are often called upon to volunteer their services for these events. Associations need to be careful when using volunteers or interns, especially if the association is a for-profit corporation. The FLSA applies to both non-profit and for-profit entities; however, non-profit entities are more likely to utilize unpaid interns and volunteers. It is important to have a sound volunteer or intern program established that clearly provides the type of work expected of volunteers and interns, and whether or not they will receive any compensation. For non-profit entities, courts will typically treat individuals who “volunteer” on a part-time basis, for public service, religious or humanitarian objectives and without the expectation of money as volunteers not subject to minimum wage and overtime requirements. Nevertheless, it is recommended that all volunteer and unpaid intern programs be carefully examined for compliance with the FLSA.

3. Social media: The gateway to an HR nightmare.
The promotional value and free advertisement of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and other social media platforms provides tremendous value to associations. Social media has enabled associations to reach their members in new ways and more often. The open channel of communication with members through social media is an invaluable benefit; but it nevertheless comes with hidden costs. It is imperative that associations take steps to avoid the legal pitfalls in the online world, including implementing a social media policy to guide your employees on acceptable online behavior. Employees must clearly understand the parameters of their social media use, both individually and on behalf of the company. As an employer, associations need to have a policy in place that addresses social media use and the discipline that may arise with its abuse.

4. Multi-jurisdictional associations come with a multitude of concerns.
Many associations also have multi-jurisdictional concerns. While some associations may be a free-standing association, unaffiliated with any other associations, others may be a local affiliate or chapter of a larger association. For example, the National Association of Women Business Owners is a national association with local chapters in other 25 states. A multi-state footprint is advantageous for associations to expand their network and services available to members; however, associations need to be aware of the impact of a multi-jurisdictional association.

Associations with affiliated associations across multiple states need to be keenly aware of the jurisdictional differences for each local association. State laws can vary significantly as to what types of leave employees are entitled to, how state anti-discrimination and harassment laws are enforced and how they impact many daily human resources functions. There is no universal employee handbook. Employee handbooks need to be revised and modified for your association’s jurisdiction. For example, Indiana has a state law related to breastfeeding in the workplace; however, Ohio does not. Unlike Indiana, Iowa has a statute permitting an employee to take a leave of absence for a bone marrow donation. Additionally, Indiana laws regarding deductions from an employees’ paycheck are specific and unique compared to neighboring states. It is essential that associations be aware of their state laws, and not rely solely upon guidance from a national affiliate, in order to safely navigate the labor and employment waters.

As is the case with all well-run businesses, compliance with labor and employment laws is a must. It is important that associations pay close attention to their specific state laws, understand how federal laws apply to the association and its employees and be prepared to tackle human resources issues as soon as they arise.

Join us Thursday, February 26, 2015 at the interactive afternoon workshop to hear Amy and two other presenters discuss hot topics, recent updates and case studies in legal and risk management. Get more details and register here.

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Topics: Associations, Association Executives, Human Resources, Employment Law

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