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Small business owners are forced to wear many hats, often a jack-of-all-trades, but masters of none.  There are some responsibilities easier to delegate than others, and if you, as a dance studio owner, choose not to be a master in employment law you should at least know the most pressing issues you may run into. Not knowing these basic policies can be costly:  Wage complaints cost businesses over $1.2 billion a year in the US in fees and back pay, and equal opportunity complaints total over $1.7 billion.  Below are Federal laws regarding employment.  Please consult your own state’s laws for additional guidance.  Most states and/or cities have their own labor laws on top of the federal benchmarks.  The information in this article represents the laws at the time of publication.

A good place to start when getting to know labor laws is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  The FLSA is the cornerstone of pay regulation in the US.  It outlines how much one should be paid, how many hours they can work, who can work, and how to record the hours of employees.  The US Department of Labor website has a lot of great resources for small business owners, as well.  It’s important to note that some laws apply only if you have more than 25 employees.

A black and white photo of one two dancers leaning forward with another being lifted by a fourth over a tangle of arms and legs.

Required Compensation

There is a required minimum wage under the FLSA.  State (or even City!) minimum wage may differ and it’s important to know which one you’re required to pay.  For example, currently, Federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 an hour.  Colorado’s minimum wage is $11.10, California’s is $13 (or $12 with fewer than 25 employees), and D.C.’s is $15.  Does this mean someone living in California can pay $7.25?  No.  Employers are required to pay the largest minimum that applies.

Typical rest periods and lunch breaks are not regulated by the FLSA and are instead defined at the state level.  When these breaks are required at the state level, federal law considers those breaks as compensable work hours (i.e. employees are required to be paid for them).  Some states require certain rest periods after five hours of work.  And most states require a paid lunch break if the employee is not free to leave the premises and spend it in a way they see fit.  The FLSA does cover reasonable break time (and physical accommodations, i.e. not a bathroom) for nursing mothers.

Review your local laws to ensure you’re granting the required break time for your employees.  Why is it common to see a studio owner run a dance camp for five or more hours and not pay their teacher for lunch, even though they’re required to stay with the kids during that time?  This is illegal and could get studios into trouble with the Department of Labor.

The same can be said for required tasks; if a studio is asking an employee to clean and close up the studio, this is compensable time.  Be sure you are paying your employees appropriately for this work. If you’re asking your employees to travel, there may be additional compensation required for that travel.  Again, consult your local laws to figure out how your travel is categorized and, if applicable, what type of compensation is required.

Equal Opportunity

In 2017, two individuals exposed a dance studio that was forcing expecting mothers to step down from teaching for a major part of the year.  This created a financial hardship on these individuals, when they otherwise were cleared to teach.  Is this a violation of equal opportunity?  There are so many details required to pick apart this case:  How many employees does the studio have?  Were the women medically restricted from teaching dance?  Was their performance affected for any reason?  This is just one example of a potential real-life violation of Equal Opportunity standards.

There are many things studio owners should assess when making a decision based on an employee’s medical condition, or even gender.  Federal and state laws are very specific on what they consider discriminatory factors.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects employees and job applicants from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, but additional laws also prevent age, and disability.  Local laws can extend these protections to sexual orientation, and more.  Know these laws to prevent unintentional discriminatory practices in your business.

Compliance with labor laws will help avoid costly mistakes in the future. It is the employer’s responsibility to know and follow these laws, and the employee’s responsibility to know what they’re entitled to.  Doing so will help ensure an equitable environment that compensates employees appropriately for their time.

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