D. Gaines Penn
Employment law is ever-changing, complex and difficult to interpret. The laws, as written, aren’t as specific as sometimes needed, and can confound well-intentioned business owners and human resources executives who want to do the right thing – but can’t tell exactly what that is.
Gaines Penn enjoys getting to know the nuances of the law, including the case law that impacts how it is interpreted. “There is a lot of problem solving,” Gaines says. “Not every case is the same. I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping clients get a good result. I love sharing good news with clients.”
Among the laws that he helps his client interpret are the Americans with Disability Act, which affects how businesses interact with employees and customers. When enacted nearly two decades ago, the law was written vaguely, and courts tightened up its interpretation, narrowing the field of who is considered disabled. Then, in 2008, the law was amended to clarify who lawmakers wanted to classify as disabled.
“I like working through issues,” Gaines says. “Sometimes they are tough issues and I have to really dig into them. We get calls from human resources managers in the area who want to know what their obligations are and try to come up with workable solutions.”
Gaines also has extensive knowledge of the Family Medical Leave Act. Enacted in 1993, the law gives employees the right to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period, but only if they work for certain size employers. Employers sometimes find it difficult to determine if the employee is entitled to the leave, or what to do if the employee’s performance is sub-standard. That’s where Gaines can help a company interpret the law, or help defend a company if they terminated an employee after taking FMLA leave. Recent changes to the law now give specific details on how employers are to deal with employees who are called for active duty with the military.
Gaines also works with employers who are affected by workers’ compensation, which is governed by detailed legislation. “Workers’ compensation is straightforward, but it is technical and very regulated,” Gaines says. “We know the regulations very well and can often do research to answer questions and get right back to our clients because we know where to look. We help our clients save time and get the right answer.”
Labor law is another area that falls within Gaines’ work. Unions don’t often attempt to organize in Kentucky, but when that does happen, Gaines helps businesses communicate with employees and handle the process fairly. “The management has to get the right message out to the employees, and get the facts corrected,” Gaines says. “When a union is coming into a facility, it is usually because there is something going on at the business that makes the employees willing to sign the card. Then, it is a matter of addressing the problems and getting the message out persuasively while obeying the law at the same time.”
Outside of work, Gaines is involved in the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce. He is serving as vice chair for 2010 and will serve as chair in 2012. “The Chamber is pretty much the leading source for economic development not only in Bowling Green but the surrounding counties,” Gaines says. “We’ve taken a regional approach over the last several years. The Chamber realizes that what’s good for Butler County or Barren County is good for Bowling Green as well. This is a strategy that’s paid off.”
A native of Lexington, Gaines is married and has two teen-age daughters.