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Business is booming and you're adding staff. Along with those new workers, you may be picking up an alphabet-soup of new legal burdens that grant new rights to your employees, ADA, FMLA, ADEA, etc.

The problems: Federal employment laws have a hodgepodge of employee-number thresholds for when they apply. And each law has its own definition on how to count your employees.

Further complicating the issue, your state may have different standards. Example: The federal Civil Rights Act bars discrimination based on race, gender, religion or national origin by employers with 15 or more workers. However, more than a dozen states have their own anti-bias laws that apply to businesses with at least one employee.

If you have federal contracts, you also may be subject to antidiscrimination laws based not on your number of workers but the value of your contracts.

How you measure

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) counts all employees, including part-time and temporary workers, in determining whether a company meets the threshold for the laws that it oversees. Generally, that means the worker is on the payroll. Independent contractors don't count.

Following is an overview of the thresholds for major federal laws:

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits companies with 20 or more workers from discriminating against people age 40 or older in hiring, firing, wages and benefits.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers with 15 or more workers from discriminating against employees or applicants because of disability or perceived disability. In addition, facilities that are open to the public must be accessible, regardless of the number of employees.

COBRA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budge Reconciliation Act, mandates continuing coverage when an employer with 20 or more workers offers health coverage.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) grants up to 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave to certain workers in companies with 50 or more employees who work within a 75-mile radius of the work site.

If you've just hired your 50th employee, however, the law doesn't cover you yet. In this case, you're not covered until 50 workers are employed "for each working day during 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year."

Just because you are covered by the FMLA, that doesn't make all of your workers eligible for FMLA-related leave. A worker must be on your payroll for at least 12 months and put in at least 1,250 hours before becoming eligible. Paid time off, including vacation and sick leave, doesn't count.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth and other related medical issues. It covers employers with 15 or more workers.

The Worker Adjustment and Re-training Notification Act requires companies to give at least 60 days notice of closings and mass layoffs.

It applies to employers with 100 or more workers. That does not count employees who have worked less than six of the past 12 months or who work an average of less than 20 hours a week.

Laws with no exceptions

The Fair Labor Standards Act's child labor and minimum-wage provisions apply to virtually every employer, and the Equal Pay Act applies even if you have only one worker.

You also must review work eligibility documents under the Immigration Reform and Control Act if you have any employees. And, the National Labor Relations Act governs organizing activity for almost all employers and unions.

All private employers are limited in using lie detectors under the Employee Polygraph Protection Act.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires all employers, regardless of size, to provide a safe workplace. The law includes additional mandates for certain industries. But if you have 10 or fewer employees, you're exempt from programmed inspections.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's new ergonomic rules apply regardless of the number of employees, but they do exclude the construction, maritime, railroad and agriculture industries. Also, some recordkeeping provisions apply only to businesses with at least 11 employees.

For a full list of employee thresholds ...

... covering the 14 most important federal employment laws and regulations, call us at (800)543-2055. We'll fax you our free, three-page report, Employment Laws: Small Business Compliance Thresholds, which also includes the phone numbers for pertinent federal and state agencies.

In addition, the EEOC published a new compliance manual last summer on thresholds for discrimination claims. In addition to the employer-size threshold, it explains who are "covered" employees and when a claim is timely. Read the document at www.eeoc.gov/docs/threshold.html or get a hard copy by calling (800) 669-4000.

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