weird commerce

Weird Commerce: ComplyRight, All Those Employment Regulation Signs

There are signs throughout every company — in the break room, in the bathroom, near a time clock — all to disseminate information about federal, state and even local laws. In case there’s curiosity about where those come from and how they get updated, here’s a clue: It’s not just the government.

It’s a company called ComplyRight.

“Our overarching mission is to provide compliance services for small businesses, businesses that don’t have in-house attorneys or tech professionals, to provide the info that small businesses need to comply with employee management and tax reporting requirements,” said Susan Drenning, president of ComplyRight Inc.

Thirty-year-old ComplyRight is based in Minnesota. It prints and distributes the signs and posters that help simplify and relay communications related to employment laws in the work environment. Bridging between what the law requires and businesses, ComplyRight tracks federal, state and local regulatory activity, as well as monitoring economic and employment environments. The company has an in-house legal team, as well as on-hand experts that help continually develop and update products, services and communications.

“The easiest thing to say is: ‘Those posters on the wall — yeah, we give you those,’” says Drenning when she’s asked offhandedly about what her company does. While in business for three decades, the poster service only launched in 2006.

On a subscription basis, businesses large and small depend on them through the year — and years — to keep them updated on law changes and compliance when it comes to required posters.

“Every business, even if you have one employee — even if that employee is your mother — is required to post both federal labor laws issued by a variety of agencies, state labor laws issued by a variety of state agencies and, in a growing trend, local laws issued by cities, counties or other municipalities,” said Drenning. “They need to be visible, they need to be in the correct size and correct wording that the agencies issued them and there has to be no effort required by the employee to view them at any day and at any time.”

Employers subscribe once a year, and the company monitors all of the business’ posting requirements throughout the year and they automatically update the business at no additional cost. Currently on the service schedule, there are 400,000 services. This year, ComplyRight shipped 940,000 updated posters.

“The weirdest thing about it is that people don’t know what they need, and nobody tells them what they need — none of the federal, state or local agencies are proactive about this,” said Drenning. “Those agencies do offer them for free, but they don’t explain or make it easy. You have to contact every agency and find out what you need, and have it send it to you, then you have to print it, then you have to post it. And on it goes.”

As an example of how businesses have to keep up, Drenning offered up the state of Maine. In 2012, the state issued 14 new postings. “That meant that anyone who tried to do this on their own would have to know this, what to post and how to execute this,” said Drenning.

Another example, and the one with the largest number of postings, is California. There are 15 postings at the state level, six at the federal level and, if the business is in the city of San Francisco, there are eight more that need to be posted. That’s 29 postings.

“They have to be in a location where an employee has to make no effort to see them,” said Drenning. “Most companies put them in a cafeteria or a break room, near a time clock, or someplace where employees pass through on a regular basis, and there’s nothing that can lock them out of the area.”

The most common posting? Minimum wage. However, both the federal and state level have minimum wages, and even if they’re not the same, each business is required to post what is most advantageous to the employee.

“So, if the state minimum wage is higher, then you’re required to comply with that,” said Drenning. “Now, some local municipalities have their own minimum wage. In San Francisco, you have to post all three, but companies have to pay whatever is the highest.”

Then, there are obscure postings. There are DOL issues about the Family Medical Leave Act, and you have to post that if you have more than 50 employees within a 50-mile radius.

Is there a maximum to the number of postings? Not really, said Drenning.

“There are kind of an infinite variety,” said Drenning, who added that there are requirements within industries within those federal, state and local postings.

For example, ComplyRight has a service dedicated to restaurants. Within those restaurants, there is the requirement for handwashing — however, it varies per state.

“Each state has unique handwashing requirements. Some states say you must wash your hands and hold them under water for 30 seconds, and other states say that you have to wash your hands twice before returning to work,” said Drenning. “There’s some crazy stuff like that. But each state wants to specify how you wash your hands before you return to work.”

Other interesting trends for these posters include smaller municipalities coming up with posters that are mandatory. ComplyRight connects with more than 23,000 municipalities, just at the local level.

What’s the smallest city? Fremont, Nebraska. The posting is to state the population: 26,304 people.

“What we see a growing trend of is the trend for local posting requirements,” said Drenning. “That started to crop up three years ago. We see a new city per week that issues their own postings. I do expect with the new administration and a stance of less regulations, lack of activity on some fronts on the federal level will increase activity at the state or city level.”

Looking ahead to 2017 and to the post-election cycle, Drenning said there are already 22 posters that need to be changed, and that’s outside of simple things like changing the name of a head of a state level department or agency.

“We work with the agencies a lot, and as long as there are employees who are not on a computer on a regular basis, they’re not going to make that a replacement for the physical posters,” said Drenning.

“It’s not something a business person tunes into unless there is big news about it.”

At the end of the day, she said her business keeps people knowing and complying because they don’t know what they don’t know.

“I think people have always felt like, ‘At the federal level, who’s going to walk in to my restaurant and check if I have a certain poster up?’ but an agency walking into a restaurant is a much more likely event,” said Drenning. “So, we work hard to make sure people know what they need to know.”

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