If you’re a business owner with a team of employees, you’re probably all too aware of the legal complications an employee can bring.
Just having them part of your workforce can be a tough, uphill battle, with taxes, employment laws, and a whole host of other factors all part of the process.
Those issues are part and parcel of running a business, however, and you probably have an HR team to handle it.
The real issue comes up when problems that you didn’t see coming crop up. When that happens, getting it back under control can be time and money consuming.
Below, we outline a few of the legal and ethical issues that can affect a business, and how you can prevent them from being problems in the first place.
#1 Being Aware of New Trends
Life as a business owner may have been easier 100 years ago, but the conditions were pretty terrible for workers.
While it might seem that new issues are cropping up all the time, they’re not really new – they’re just finally coming to light.
For example, take the issue surrounding transgender friendly bathrooms that have been going on around the country for a few months now.
This isn’t a new issue, it’s just finally getting the airtime it needed. As such, it pays for you to be aware of the movements that are gathering pace, because if you’re not then you might find yourself falling foul of a rule that you didn’t even know existed.
As a business owner, you might think that the law tends to come down more favorably on the workers side, but that’s not true: you’re still in control. In the workplace, it’s up to you to establish the ethical code of conduct that each employee will follow. As the boss, it’s also up to you to differentiate between what you
In the workplace, it’s up to you to establish the ethical code of conduct that each employee will follow. As the boss, it’s also up to you to differentiate between what you can do, and what you should do. There’s two sides of every coin, but it often comes down to what you want your business to be all about. If you snoop on your employees, it might foster a level of resentment that causes problems down the line. Employees
There’s two sides of every coin, but it often comes down to what you want your business to be all about. If you snoop on your employees, it might foster a level of resentment that causes problems down the line. Employees
Employees who like their boss are much less likely to sue over those who hold a grudge against their boss and want to get revenge after they leave.
#3 Workplace Safety
Many of the legal issues we talk about are up for debate, and thus can be difficult to manage. This cannot be said of workplace safety, however, which is pretty clear when you get down to it.
If you fail to make sure that your workspace is completely safe, then it becomes much easier for employees to sue you later on down the line should they have an accident.
Time and time again, we see that “frivolous” lawsuits are being won across the country, so you’re unlikely to win a lawsuit related to workplace safety.
Ultimately, following the government issued rules surrounding workplace safety is one of the simplest things you can do. And it’s not even just your legal duty, either – you have a moral obligation to keep your staff safe.
#4 Letting Employees Go
Nobody likes to fire an employee, but it simply has to happen from time to time.
Before you let someone go, however, it’s important that you’re completely sure that you have the legal right to do so.
If you do, then preventing any legal issues will come down to how you handle the termination.
Carefully explaining why an employee is having their employment terminated – and doing so in a calm, respectful manner – can abate any issues down the line.
It’s also hugely important that you get in down in writing and have it signed by both of you. This won’t necessarily ensure that the fired employee won’t sue further on down the line, but it can help your defense should it happen.
#5 Keeping Employees Happy
It might feel like it’s easy to trip up legally with your employees, and that’s because it is.
For example, one thing that most employers fail to realise is that they can be sued if they use an image of one of their employees in promotional materials for the business without their consent.
Just because they work for you, you don’t necessarily have the right to use their image. This gets even more complicated when you identify them by name in writing.
It’s very easy to get sued for defamation, even if you’re only joking or you don’t perceive what is being said as particularly offensive.
Also, be aware that it’s all too easy for you to break privacy laws. Of course, as a business owner you’ll have your own criteria as to how you hire and manage your staff, but if you do anything that can be considered too invasive (or too vague) then there’s every chance that an employee can sue you.
#6 Social Media
How businesses handle the private social media activity of their employees is still being worked out.
Because it’s such a relatively new issue, there aren’t really any set laws that deal solely with websites like Facebook or Twitter.
As such, you can rest assured that there’s more and more issues surrounding social media and employment. The law is very slowly beginning to establish some laws for it, and there have been some interesting cases in recent years.
For example, one judge ruled that an employee was wrongly dismissed following a Facebook posting that criticized their boss. In another, it was ruled that an Apple employee was fairly dismissed after writing a series of posts criticizing the tech giants.
Essentially, it’s all a bit messy, and as such it’s probably best to establish your own social media code of conduct with your staff, which shouldn’t be too difficult if you’re a small company.
#7 The Intern Problem
Hiring an intern for a set period of time can be a great arrangement for your business, but it’s easier than you’d think for you to fall foul of the law.
And it doesn’t help that the wording surrounding the laws is open to interpretation. The main legal issue is whether or not an intern should be considered as an intern (who don’t have to be paid) or a regular employee (who do).
If the intern is doing the work of a regular employee (or worse, replacing one altogether) and they’re not being paid, then you’re breaking the law.
If their work is for their benefit only and they’re actually learning, then you’re not. The ambiguous nature of internships have opened them up to abuse, and it happens often.
Stay on the right side of the law and you won’t retrospectively feel the heat.
#8 Time and Overtime Issues
There’s one issue that’s being debated right now that will have a massive effect on US businesses.
In November, a Texas judge overruled a new law that would have made millions of employees eligible for overtime pay.
This hasn’t yet been settled, though it looks likely that Trump’s administration won’t challenge the Texan’s verdict. Still, even without overtime, employee hours are at the heart of many internal work disputes.
Having an employee hours form can eliminate the disputes and have everyone in agreeance – exactly what’s needed to prevent lawsuits.
Even if it doesn’t happen immediately, over time will be on the table again in the not too distant future, so it’ll pay to be prepared – and have the documents to prove your case.
#9 Discrimination in the Workplace
Unfortunately, it’s not just up to you to make sure your business is doing everything right legally. You also need to make sure that all your employees know what is permissible in the workplace and what isn’t.
Discrimination can take many forms and can happen for many reasons, but if someone feels they’re being treated differently because of their race, sex, age, or sexual orientation then you’ll have a real problem on your hands – even if the issue had nothing personally to do with you.
If one employee makes a series of inappropriate comments to another employee, then it’s you that feels the heat. You can combat this by being vigilant in the workplace and also holding anti-discrimination training for your employees.
#10 Changes are Coming
It can seem that the workplace is a legal minefield, and it’s only going to get more complicated in the near future, as there’s going to be a whole host of new rulings rolling out on a state by state basis.
For example, the repeal of Obamacare may cut some paperwork, but no one knows what it’ll yet be replaced by.
On the employee rights front, sick pay and parental leave are being introduced to more and more states. Equal pay between men and women is also on the agenda, so you may have to prepare yourself for your employee expenditure to soon change.
In the end, you’ll never be able to make your workplace a completely legally sound space. But by adopting the right ethics, code of conducts, and workplace practices, you can limit your openness to lawsuits.
So how are you dealing with legal and ethical issues in your businesses? Share your comments below.