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Posts from Joshua Newville, a Minnesota employment lawyer, civil rights attorney, and mediator.

How Do Employment Law Claims Differ at Small Businesses?

The laws regulating employer/employee relationships can differ depending on the type of employer in question. For example, a large, multinational corporation and a small, family-owned restaurant are very different in nature, and thus have some differing legal requirements.

mechanic working on car

Both federal and state employment laws exist to prevent employers from making employment decisions—usually hiring, awarding promotions, demoting, or firing—based on factors that an employee can’t control, and that have no bearing on their ability to do their job. These are factors like race, sex, age, disability, and sexual orientation.

Employment laws also work to protect employees who make reports of discrimination or illegal conduct from being punished (called retaliation) by the employer for their actions. Overtime pay, drug and alcohol testing, and medical leave issues are also addressed under employment laws. Some of the most common issues handled under employment law include wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment, and hostile work environment.

Defining a Small Business

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) small business requirements lay out guidelines for when anti-discrimination laws apply to a small business:

  1. 1 or More Employee. Businesses with more than one employee must follow the Equal Pay Act, which requires that men and women be given equal pay or equal work in the same workplace.

  2. 15 or More Employees. These businesses are covered by laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, age, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, and genetic information (including family medical history). They must also follow the laws of the Equal Pay Act.

Responsibilities of a Small Business

The U.S. Department of Labor small business guidelines dictates that every small business owner must uphold the responsibility to:

  1. Properly pay employees

  2. Maintain necessary records

  3. Follow all laws regarding the employment of minors

  4. Provide eligible workers with unpaid family or medical leave

  5. Notify employees of their rights in the workplace

Furthermore, the EEOC requires that business owners work to prevent discrimination in the workplace, and take measures to rectify any situations of harassment or discrimination which do occur. In addition to what we have already discussed, business owners must:

  1. Ensure that employees are not harassed or excluded because of factors like race or age

  2. Respond promptly and adequately to discrimination complaints

  3. Ensure that employees are not punished for complaining or reporting harassment

  4. Provide accommodations to employees who need them for medical or religious reasons

  5. Display a poster that describes federal employment discrimination laws

It’s essential for small business owners to be aware of the federal, state, and local laws that apply to their business based on its number of employees and business volume. For example, for businesses that have an annual gross volume of sales made or business done totaling $500,000 or more, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) will apply. In addition to federal guidelines, there will be state (such as the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act) and local laws with specific requirements for small businesses.

Owning a small business is a considerable responsibility, and there are dozens of laws that must be understood in order to ensure that the company is not in any form of legal violation. If unlawful practices take place at a small business, the victim is well within their legal right to file an employment claim against the entity that caused them harm. An oversight, mismanagement, poor communication, or a lack of understanding of applicable laws is not an excuse for a small business owner to allow discrimination, wage violations, harassment, retaliation, or other illegal behaviors to happen in the workplace.

Small Business Employment Claims

If you were the victim of an employment law violation at your place of work, your lawyer will need to assess your case carefully to consider all relevant criteria. Employment law can become very complicated, and multiple factors will need to be evaluated to determine how best to proceed with your case.

These factors will include the kind of case you have, the type of employer you work for, the state laws that apply to your employer, and the damages you are seeking. Your attorney will help you determine if your claim should be filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Minnesota Human Rights Act, or another applicable law.

Depending on your circumstances, your lawyer can help you file an employment claim such as:

  1. Wrongful termination

  2. Discrimination

  3. Hostile work environment

  4. Sexual harassment

  5. Unlawful drug and alcohol testing

  6. Retaliation against a discrimination report

  7. Retaliation against a whistleblower

  8. Workers compensation retaliation

  9. Minimum wage violation

  10. Overtime pay violation

  11. Unpaid wages and unlawful deductions

The compensation a plaintiff may receive in an employment claim against a small business will vary widely depending on the circumstances. Victims of illegal workplace practices may be entitled to back pay and front pay damages, emotional distress compensation, treble damages (three times the amount of actual damages) under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, punitive damages under both the Minnesota Human Rights Act and Title VII, and attorney fees and costs. In some cases, the plaintiff may be able to have their job reinstated after unlawful dismissal.


Joshua Newville is a Minnesota employment lawyer, civil rights attorney, and mediator. Josh litigates and advises on such matters as wrongful termination, whistleblowers, discrimination, police misconduct, and more. He offers paid legal consultations and free online case reviews regarding employment law and civil rights.


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