Byrd: Know your labor laws
Do you know North Dakota labor laws? If you're an employer or an employee in this state, it's in your best interest to familiarize yourself with them.
For instance, did you know that if your employer provides a vacation benefit, the time you accrue counts as a payable wage even if your job is terminated? According to the North Dakota Department of Labor, that wage must be paid by the employer like any other wages due for work performed and it's payable no later than the employer's regularly scheduled payday.
Even if the employer offers other benefits that must be paid for -- like health, vision and dental insurance or Aflac -- they may not withhold any payable wages to cover the cost of those benefits for any additional time after the date of your termination. Once the employer/employee relationship is severed by the employer, all wages are due without excuse.
According to the DOL, there are three reasons a vacation wage may be withheld, and they only apply if the employee separates from employment voluntarily. They include: "1) If, at the time of hiring, the employer provided written notice of the limitation on payment of accrued paid time off; 2) The employee has been employed by the employer for less than one year; and 3) The employee gave the employer less than five days written or verbal notice."
Common sense tells us that employers should know the laws that govern them, but just this week I was alerted to a situation in which an employer had paid the working wages to a terminated employee but it had withheld all vacation wages so that the employee would have a wage paid in August that could be used to cover that month's premium on an Aflac plan. The situation didn't sound right to me, so I called the DOL to determine the correct course of action.
The person I spoke with pleasantly and quickly directed me to the answer I needed. Turns out the law is made clear on the DOL's website in its frequently asked questions section. My contact also informed me that the law can be found on those minimum wage posters all employers are required to display in an easily accessed area, usually a break room.
Even though the employer had asked the employee if they wanted to continue their Aflac coverage, by law the employer could not pay the next month's premium by withholding vacation wages. The question should never have been asked in the first place.
Besides, Aflac is not dependent on pay from an employer. Once an employee is terminated and Aflac no longer receives a premium from the employer, Aflac will contact the employee directly to arrange premium payment. It will then continue to deal directly with its customer.
I bring this to your attention this week because statistically speaking, I can't believe this is an isolated incident. It may have been so for this particular employer and I certainly don't believe the withholding was a malicious act, but here in the Oil Patch there are so many employers and employees that similar incidents are bound to happen. Wage payment for a terminated employee is obviously a concern enough statewide that the DOL lists it among its frequently asked questions.
The moral of the story is know the labor laws for the state in which you work or employ people. They are there as much to protect the employer as they are to protect the employee. And when in doubt, give a call to the good folks at the DOL. They'll be more than happy to help you.
Byrd is the news editor for The Dickinson Press. Email him at email@example.com or tweet him at klarkbyrd.