“Informal arrangements are great when everyone is happy, but you expose yourself to liability if you don’t have formal policies in place,” says ASTA general counsel Peter Lobasso.
For travel agencies, knowing the basics of employment law is crucial in the unfortunate event that employees convert from supportive teammates to confrontational adversaries. In “Employment Law Basics and Beyond,” he provided an overview of what the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires, how claims typically arise, and best practices for preventing claims in the first place. His presentation was based on his years as a defense counsel for a variety of employers.
Lobasso provided insight on the most common discrimination claims (typically filed under Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act). His first piece of advice: Implement employment policies and distribute a company employee manual.
“You can greatly help yourself in the event you are sued if you have notice that an employee received a company handbook describing work rules and anything else that relates to how work is performed and rewarded in your office,” he said.
Making sure that employees have job descriptions, including hours they are expected to work, overtime rules, locations where work should be conducted, etc., “can be very helpful in the event you are sued for a FLSA claim,” Lobasso said. “Not having the documentation is problematic.”
Job descriptions also can protect an agency if an employee claims that someone is being treated differently than other employees. “There are 100 reasons why you can legally treat people differently, but it needs to be clear to everyone in the office from the outset.”
ASTA has been playing close attention to employee classification as the Department of Labor under the Obama Administration was keen on raising the salary threshold at which employees become eligible for overtime pay. Many travel agencies, seeking to comply with the higher threshold, considered reclassifying their employees.
But Lobasso cautioned agencies to be careful about how they classify employees. The current Republican administration has “a little less concern about the Fair Labor Standards Act. And the Department of Labor is expected to have a less aggressive tone toward things like misclassification of employees.” Other best practices include having set procedures for disputes and grievances, and regular performance reviews.