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As reality sets in that you are now the proud owner of an urgent care clinic and you’re down to the nuts and bolts of the operation—the urgent care policies and procedures—many owner operators begin to ponder what type of boss they want to be.

One of the hardest things about being an owner-operator is knowing how to balance good business decisions with being fair and considerate of the staff’s needs and wants. After all of the effort that goes into hiring and training, the last thing you want to do is a have high staff turnover due to things you deem easily adjusted; such as allowing staff flexible lunch periods or personalized floating schedules.

Many decisions may seem to have little impact initially, so we modify policies to accommodate the requests of our staff without proper thought or research into future operational or legal ramifications. Do you know how far your state laws allow you to bend the rules?

It is not always a matter of kindness on your end but more a function of what is dictated to you as an owner by state and federal regulations. So before deciding what type of manager you want to be and what policies you are willing to alter, learn more on where you state and federal employment boundaries lie.

By playing the nice guy’ boss, you may be in violation of employment laws without even realizing it. The U.S. Small Business Administration has recently published a report siting the most common ways employment laws are broken. Below is a quick glance at 5 ways the report determines owners may be breaking the law unknowingly.

1. Flexible lunch breaks
While federal law doesn’t require employees be given lunch or coffee breaks, certain states require that non-exempt employees get 30-minute lunch breaks, plus breaks for hours worked during the day. Laws even stipulate when the break must be given. In California, a meal break must be provided no later than the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work. So giving employees the option of skipping lunch to get out of work early is a law-breaker. Again, refer to your State Labor Office for more information.

2. Letting employees decide which hours and how many they want to work each day
State laws restrict the number of hours an employee can work without payment of overtime. If you have a flex-time policy that lets employees work longer days but fewer of them, you’ll need to follow the rules to ensure you don’t incur overtime or back-pay along with penalties. Check what laws apply in your state regarding pay and scheduling.

3. Giving employees loans and deducting repayments from their pay checks
You may think you’re being a generous boss, but most states don’t permit employers to deduct anything other than pay and benefits from employee paychecks. Instead, have the employee sign a promissory note with the oversight of a lawyer and arrange a regular schedule of repayments.

4. Classifying employees as independent contractors
This is an area of the law ripe for litigation, which can also land you in trouble with the tax man. Your worker may be happy to be considered an independent contractor until money and benefits such as paid leave, workers’ compensation and disability become issues. For more insight into this thorny topic, as well as the role the IRS plays and why you need to be aware, read Independent Contractors vs. Employees.

5. Classifying all employees as exempt, whether they are or not
An exempt employee is typically someone who is paid a specified amount of money, regardless of the number of hours worked a week. Under both state and federal law, these positions may be exempt from overtime requirements, as well as meal and rest breaks. Other positions may only be exempt from overtime.
Employees who don’t qualify for one of the exemptions are considered nonexempt and subject to overtime and meal breaks.

Problems arise when employers assume it’s easier to pay everyone a salary (or treat them as exempt), rather than dealing with meal and rest breaks, overtime, and time sheets. Many employers are sued for failure to provide meal and rest periods for nonexempt employees improperly classified as exempt.

Remember there is a fine line between being a nice flexible boss and being an uninformed owner.

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