In many, even most ways, Montana employment law follows the federal laws, but there are a few areas in which it doesn’t. Here are the deviations that most commonly cause problems:
Age discrimination covers all ages in Montana, not just people over 40 years old. This means that you cannot set minimum ages unless they are provided by statute. For instance, employees must be 18 to serve alcohol by statute; you may not set a minimum age of 21. This one causes ulcers for out-of-state insurers on a regular basis.
You cannot discriminate on the basis of marital status, a class not protected under federal regulations. In practice, this means that you can’t ban nepotism in the workplace. Instead, you can prohibit favoritism based on non-job-related factors, such as graduating from the same college, favoring the same sports team, or being related. You can prohibit family members from supervising one another.
Marital status also means that you can’t fire (or refuse to hire) someone based on who they are married to. Another employee is one example, as above, but it can also include a spouse who is the same sex or an elected official of the “wrong” party. The fact that they are married is also off-limits; you can’t hire on assumptions about their willingness to travel or work late based on whether they are single or married.
Montana is the only state that does not allow at-will employment. This means that after the probation period, you must have good cause to fire an employee. At-will language will show up in the “not a contract” language, but also watch for mentions in discussions of payroll and exempt/nonexempt status. This is the thing that most often trips up out-of-state lawyers and internet-sourced templates for employee manuals.
There are a few things that most states require but Montana doesn’t: employee access to their employee file; paying overtime after 8 hours in one day (as opposed to after 40 hours in one week); providing meal or rest breaks; and providing paid vacation, sick leave, and holidays. These are generally good ideas, but they are left to the employer’s discretion rather than mandated by law.
As usual, having a good employment-law attorney licensed in Montana is the easiest way to stay out of trouble, since they know to look for these things.
Thanks to Jim Nys for a great presentation!