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Labor Department offers compliance assistance for employers: the U. S. Department of Labor is taking steps to ease the path to compliance for small businesses.

Tools to Help Franchises as they Succeed and Grow

As franchise systems and their units succeed and grow, they ,'nay face increased legal responsibilities, especially relative to hiring and managing employees. But as many franchisors and franchisees well know, employment laws are complex, and navigating their requirements can be challenging.

With responsibility for more than 180 of these laws, the U.S. Department of Labor is taking steps to ease the road to compliance for small-business owners. Under the leadership of Secretary Elaine L. Chao, DOL has committed to significantly enhance its compliance assistance efforts. The goal of these efforts is to protect the wages, health benefits, retirement security, safety and health of America's workforce by preventing employment law violations.

Of course, increased compliance assistance does not replace or in any way detract from strong enforcement. Rather, it complements enforcement by allowing DOL to focus its enforcement resources on the relatively small number of business owners who deliberately ignore their responsibilities and endanger worker safety and health, jeopardize pension security, fail to pay the minimum wage or overtime, or engage in other unfair and illegal workplace practices.

Benefits to Franchising

DOL's increased compliance assistance efforts benefit the franchising community on two levels. On the individual level, new DOL-wide compliance assistance tools help make DOL's laws easier to understand for the small-business owner who does not have the benefit of a dedicated human resources or in-house legal advisor. More broadly, in systems in which franchisors provide franchisees assistance with personnel issues, DOL's efforts serve to reinforce the value of this service and help franchisors provide it more effectively. This, in turn, helps DOL fulfill its goals. DOL simply does not have the resources to reach each and every regulated business, while franchisors have the power to communicate employment law requirements to an estimated 760,000 franchised small businesses across the United States.

To assist the regulated community, Secretary Chao created an Office of Compliance Assistance Policy, which is charged with raising awareness of DOL's laws and regulations and where businesses can go for help with them. Through the development of DOL-wide tools and resources, this office also helps employers who do not understand how the agency is structured get answers to questions. One of the biggest challenges small businesses face is simply figuring out where they need to go for help on a particular issue, or, in some cases, if DOL is even the appropriate place to go.

The following tools can help franchises ensure they are in compliance with DOL laws:

* elaws Advisors

* www.dol.gov/elaws

The elaws Advisors (Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small Businesses) are online tools that help individuals understand DOL's major statues, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets the federal minimum wage and has rules on child labor, overtime, what activities constitute hours worked. Each elaws Advisor mimics the interaction an individual would have with a DOL employment law expert by asking questions and providing answers based on his or her responses. For example, today many employers need to know the reemployment rights for National Guard members and reservists returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan under DOL's Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. By using the elaws USERRA Advisor, they can get answers to questions such as "What are my obligations as an employer" and "How does USERRA affect the benefits I provide to my employees?"

Often, before it can benefit from compliance assistance materials for particular laws, a small business first needs help determining which DOL laws apply to them. A new elaws Advisor, the FirstStep Employment Law Advisor, does just that. It simply and quickly identifies which of DOL's major employment laws apply to a business and then provides information about how to comply with each law's requirements.

Toll-Free Information Service 1-866-4-USA-DOL

DOL's Toll-Free Information Service provides a central access point to DOL for information on a range of employment rules and issues. By caIling 1-866-4-USA-DOL (1-866-487-2365; TTY: 1-877-889-5627), individuals can find answers to questions about job loss, business closures, pay and leave, workplace safety and health, and pension and health benefits. This service will also quickly refer callers if their issue does not fall under DOL's jurisdiction. Because laws affecting employment are handled by many government agencies, it is not uncommon (nor unreasonable) that people often contact DOL with questions that actually belong to other agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or Internal Revenue Service.

Department of Labor Web Site www.dol.gov

DOL's Web site provides access to a wide range of employment and regulatory information around the clock. It also offers the opportunity to ask questions about employment and regulatory issues via e-mail. Access to DOL agencies' compliance assistance information is available through DOL's Office of Compliance Assistance Policy Web site, www.dol.gov/compliance. From here users can get to different DOL agencies' resources, such as the YouthRules! Web site, www.youthrules.dol.gov. This site centralizes information about rules governing the employment of young workers, who constitute a significant percentage of workers in many of the industries in which franchises thrive.

Employment Law Guide

The Employment Law' Guide, which describes DOL's major statutes and regulations, is an invaluable resource lot new business owners who are not familiar with DOL's laws. Written in plain language, this free publication provides background information on DOL's major laws, outlining who is covered; the basic provisions of each law; the penalties for not complying; specific compliance assistance resources available for that law; and how the law relates to state and local laws. The publication is available online at www.dol.gov/compliance and in print (in both English and Spanish) by calling 1-866-4-USA-DOL.

By working together to achieve compliance with employment laws, franchisors and franchisees can help DOL and play an important role in ensuring safety, security and lair wages for a significant segment of the nation's workforce, while at the same time protecting their business investments and assets.

Barbara Bingham is director of the Office of Compliance Assistance Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor.
COPYRIGHT 2004 International Franchise Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Management & Operations
Author:Bingham, Barbara
Publication:Franchising World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2004
Words:1012
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