The Company Owner Ignores Federal Laws

Currently, I am an HR Generalist for a company that’s never had an HR person before.

The owner is an HR nightmare. He won’t allow me to do my job. He asked me what I thought my first priority was. I answered “compliance”. He then asked me “what does that mean”? I’ve been there for 6 months and I’m seriously considering reporting him to the Department of Labor, OSHA, FCRA, dept. of homeland security. Etc

His I-9’s for the people I’ve hired are the only ones that are completed. He told me there was “no sense of urgency” to get the others completed. He is aware he could be fined. Hourly people that work there, clock out for a meal, then sit at their desk and work. He is aware he can be fined for that. Field workers are expected to supply their own safety supplies. Goggles, hard hats etc. OSHA requires the employer to supply all safety supplies except safety shoes. The background check system they use is not FCRA compliant. It doesn’t give applicants the opportunity to appeal negative information in their background. The owner will ask applicants during interviews questions about marital status, number of children & where did you grow up, at an interview. I’m at a loss. I’ve spoken to him in reference to all of these issues. They are not important to him. Do you have any advice in regard to what I should do? I’m looking for a new position, but there are not a lot of HR jobs out there.

Well, getting out of there is a good idea, but jobs don’t grow on trees. Here are my questions for you.

1. Why did he hire an HR person? What did he expect you to do?

2. Is he evil or just clueless?

If I were you, I’d ask him directly the first question. Because, your top obligation is compliance, but he undoubtedly did not hire you because he wanted someone to do compliance. He, perhaps, wanted someone to do the hiring or someone to do training, or someone to listen to employee whining. You can do the job you were hired to do with a clear conscience because compliance isn’t your responsibility. Just make it clear to him, and document that he wishes you to do A, B, and C.

Now, the second question on evil or clueless? This makes a big difference. The government throws so many regulations at business owners it’s likely that every single one of them is violating the law in some way, even if they are diligently trying to follow all regulations. He’s clearly not trying very hard, but he may just not think it’s a big deal. For instance, if you’re traveling down the freeway in Philadelphia and the speed limit is 55 mph, it’s not a big deal to go 65 mph. Everyone else is doing it. (Unless, of course, it’s the turnpike and it’s rush hour, or construction hour, or Tuesday, in which case you won’t break 25 mph, but I digress.) He may think it’s like that–technically illegal, but no police officer is going to pull you over for that.

But, if he’s evil? If he has hired illegal aliens, knows it, and doesn’t care, that’s a different issue. If he thinks people are working through lunch because they love their jobs that’s handled differently than if he expects them to work through lunch and fires them if he doesn’t. If he asks about kids because he’s chatty, that’s one thing. If he’s asking because he refuses to hire any women with children, that’s another. Get what I’m saying? The end result is the same should someone show up for an audit, but how you handle it is different.

And even though I said just do the job you were hired to do, I admit, it would drive me insane to work in a place where OSHA could show up any minute and put us through an audit that would turn my life into a living Hell. So, here’s what I would do.

Start small. The I-9 thing is easily fixable. Do your own audit and everyone who doesn’t have the proper documentation gets a note from you and an appointment to bring in their paperwork. I’m guessing the business isn’t that big if you’re the first HR person, so you can get this done quickly.

Get quotes for new background check services. I can’t believe people are selling backgrounds that aren’t FCRA compliant, but there you go. Ask your current vendor what it will cost to get them up to compliance. Get quotes from other vendors. Go to your boss and say, “here’s what it will cost to be compliant in the law.

So on and so forth. Just start fixing things. When he pushes back, say “If the Department of Labor showed up on our doorstep today, you’d be required to pay back pay and overtime for all these unpaid hours worked, plus additional fines. You’d need to hire an attorney to sort it all out. Anyone of your current or former employees could call this in at any time and you’d be in a world of financial hurt. Do you want to take that risk?”  If he says yes, go ahead and write him an email saying that this is to make it clear that doing x (or not doing x) is a violation of federal law and you are advising him to do Y. You’re documenting and making it easy when he eventually gets sued.

Some things will be easier than others. The I-9 thing is easy enough. Getting money for employee safety equipment will not be easy. Informing him that he can’t ask about national origin is easy. Following up to make sure it happens is not.

So, while you’re looking for a new job, you have a real opportunity to make a difference and protect a business.

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13 thoughts on “The Company Owner Ignores Federal Laws

  1. I’m thinking that making a difference at this job won’t be easy. I know I could not work there in good conscience if I could not fix any of these things. This boss is acting like a loon and an ass. I hope that your good suggestions snap him out of it a bit.

  2. Getting the I-9 situation corrected seems simple, but what do you do if you find someone not eligible to work? Maybe more of a problem than now.
    FCRA – The employer’s responsibility to comply here, not the background screen vendor. Getting authorization, notifying employee of their rights, etc – that is the employer’s job.
    Are you certain the safety equipment is “required” and not just a precaution. If that is the case employer is not responsible.
    Asking those questions in an interview is not illegal from a federal standpoint. Some states have laws on what you can ask, but the questions are not illegal. They are dangerous and can be a problem if indeed you are discriminating.

    1. Everything is the employers job, but someone is doing those credit checks for them. There should be a release form that shares the information they will access and how it will be used. I’m shocked that any company would run credit checks without the proper release form.

      Then when it comes back negatively, the HR person can give the person the needed information to find out why they’ve been rejected, etc.

      Easier said than done!

  3. Haven’t we all been in a similar situation from time to time? All we can do as HR pros is make our owner/boss/board aware. Ultimately the compliance decision is squarely on them, or non-compliance as the case may be. I always find the best approach when dealing with an ass is to say “This is the way X is supposed to be done. This is the way we are doing X. This is the potential cost of non-compliance.” Sometimes the actual dollar amounts are enough to frighten them into making the right decision, the compliant decision. Wholeheartedly agree on the email to the boss reiterating his decision, and print a copy to keep at home. You never know when you’ll need that whistleblower protection. Also, remember, when it comes to things like ERISA compliance, HR does bear personal risk as plan fiduciary. I wouldn’t take the risk. Let accounting do it. 🙂

  4. The implication that people who hire undocumented immigrants (“illegal aliens”, seriously?!) are potentially evil is a bit much.

    1. I didn’t read it as people who hire illegal aliens are evil; I read it as people who knowingly violate the law, and refuse to come into compliance in order to cover it up are evil.

    2. People who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, often do so not out of the goodness of their hearts, but rather because illegal immigrants are easier to victimize. From all the other details the letter writer has supplied, the boss does not sound like the kind-hearted soul, but more likely the latter variety. Someone who is a legal citizen is much more likely to report when they are not being provided proper safety equipment, expected to work off the clock, etc.

  5. You missed something. If you decide to CYA by sending email, make sure you blind copy a personal email address. Otherwise, he could deny it and it would be really hard for you to prove.

  6. Aren’t there some things where HR would be held accountable even when they are acting on the direction of the owner, against their judgement? I’ve read other similar stories and the advice is to “get out now and seek legal advice to limit your liability.”

  7. I wrote the original letter. I’ve fixed the I-9’s for the employees in the office. He told me to fix the others but stated there is “no sense of urgency”. Most of our workers are in the field. Some as far as 3 hours away. He doesn’t want me to drive to them to see their ID & he doesn’t want them to come out of their way. So basically the I9’s for employees hired prior to me remain undone. In his desperation to get helpers to the construction site, he told me to call one of my new hires who was scheduled starting tomorrow for orientation & tell themnot to come to the office. He told me to have them go right to the jobsite which is 2 1/2 hours from the office where I am. I asked him about the I-9 & how were we going to complete it? He told me the site supervisor can complete it. The site supervisor has no I-9 training so I offered to go there & train him and he said “he didn’t know where my head was & I don’t need to drive up there to train him, & that form is easy”. This particular supervisor is so busy and overwhelmed on a new construction site he doesn’t have time to answer his phone. Never mind complete an I-9 form. Anyone have any suggestions? I’m trying to hang in there while job searching, but it’s getting very difficult.

  8. Wow. I am going through the exact same issues as the OP. Down to the same industry (construction), same issues, and I’m their first full time HRM. Also ready to hang it up at this location.

    OP, feel free to email me.

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