Can you be arrested for violating Employment Law?

Typically, when we hear about a boss who doesn’t pay his employees properly or allows discrimination to happen in the workplace, we hear about fines and penalties to the organization and occasionally to an individual within the business.

But can we be arrested???

Well….just asked the owner of Merryman Grounds Maintenance Inc. He was arrested by the US Marshall Service for not complying with federal court orders to pay $45,846 in back wages and liquidated damages to his employees.

Probably not his best day this year.

Each day the Department of Labor (DOL) and The Equal Employment Commission (EEOC) issue press releases where companies have violated one or more employment laws. There are thousands of employment laws at all levels of the government, federal, state, county, and city.

It’s story time: (Always one of my favorite times as a kid).

Story One: The manager at a busy restaurant needed a new server, so they put out a job posting and got numerous candidates applying. They interviewed a candidate and hired her. After checking out her social media posts found out she was pregnant. So, they called her and told her that they would be unable to hire her because, and I quote, “I didn’t know you were expecting a baby.”

They Violated the 1978 Pregnancy Act where it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because they are pregnant.

Story Two: A Miami electrical and engineering federal contractor was hired to do electrical work at The Everglades National Park Flamingo Center. Instead of classifying their workers as electricians, they classified them as ironworkers, which meant the company could pay them at a lower rate.

They violated the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts which govern what employers pay construction workers. (learn more)

Story Three: A Home Health Care company didn’t pay their companion services workers overtime because and I can’t make this up, they didn’t know the law had changed. In 2013 DOL put out Home Health Care Final Rule requiring staffing agencies to pay companion service workers’ overtime. Seven years later they were still not paying their employees properly. Ignorance of the law is not a defense. (learn more)

They violated the Fair Labor Standards Act which states most employees need to be paid overtime after 40 hours of work. (Note: in some states paying overtime starts after 8 hours in a day.)

Story Four: A German-born naturalized US Citizen applied and interview with a national manufacturing specialty staffing company. And was offered a position with a federal government contractor that required U.S. citizenship. She was told to be hired she needed to show her U.S. birth certificate, which she did not have. She did have documents proving that she was a U.S. Citizen. Yet the staffing agency told her that they could not move forward because she was not born in the United States. (learn more)

They violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which states that an employer cannot treat applicants or employees unfavorably because they are from a particular country.

I could go on and on and on…there are hundreds of stories each month of companies that violate employment law. In my classes, I ask managers and supervisors if they think companies break the law on purpose, and most agree that companies do it because they are ignorant of the law.

As Business Owners, Managers, and Supervisors it is your responsibility to know the employment laws that affect how your organization runs. And there are many….

Here are a few….

Fair Labor Standard Act (Includes minimum wage, child labor, overtime rules and recording keeping requirements.)

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Prohibits discrimination in employment on the bases of race, color, national origin, religion, and sex.)

Title I of the Americans with Disability Act (Prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in terms, conditions, and privileges of employment)

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (Prohibits discrimination in employment based on age)

Immigration Reform and Control Act (Requires employers to make sure all employees are legally authorized to work in the United States)

Family Medical Leave Act: (Entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with the continuation of group health insurance.

OSHA: (Employers are required to furnish to their employees a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to their employees.)  

And this is just on the federal level, don’t forget your state and local employment laws as well.

So can you be arrested for violating these laws – YES. But more likely is that you are going to experience an uncomfortable audit, pay fines and penalties and get to see your company’s name in the news.

How do you avoid this?

Start with learning more about the different employment laws. This month I am doing a full-day seminar for Pryor Learning called Employment Laws All Managers Need to Know.

Also, my business partner Chuck Simikian and I do a podcast called where we tell stories of where companies got HR Wrong and what you should do to get HR Right.

Ask for help…reach out to me at and let’s have a conversation about how to get HR Right in your organization.


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