What Are My Obligations?
As owners and managers, our first responsibility is to know the laws designed to protect employees. Most of us are too small to hire a professional human resources director. This leaves it up to you to not only hang the required labor law posters on the wall but to actually read every word contained in them and apply them within your operations. You also are required to know which posters to display. In some cases, simply failing to hang up a required poster can result in fines of $5,000 to $17,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor website. It is up to you to enforce and obey the laws while fostering an environment that does not discourage an employee from reporting a labor violation to you without fear of termination or job retaliation.
Required Labor Posters
Federal law requires all employers to have the following posters visible in prominent locations and easily accessible by all employees:
- The Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA)
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
- The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
- The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)
- The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)
- The Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA)
Each state has a labor department that requires additional state posters to be mounted as well. Visit the website of your state Department of Labor (DOL) to view its requirements.
In this world we live in, electronic documentation is everywhere. From cameras mounted on walls to cell phone videos, it would not be difficult for a claimant to produce video and still photos to back their case up to a jury. Perhaps you should have your own videos of those participating in office pranks or telling an off-color joke. Beware of cell phone audio recordings during meetings. Today, nearly everyone can use a phone as a pocket recorder. If you choose to record a meeting, you must disclose to the other party that you are recording. Decide if any such recording might help or hurt you in the future.
The expense of sexual harassment lawsuits may not be covered by your insurance policies. Most general liability policies specifically exclude paying damages awarded in a sexual harassment claim. This means you will pay your own attorney fees, court fees, the judgment and likely, the claimant’s attorney fees. As a small company, you may not have the collective resources to pay a judgment and you could be ordered to turn the company over to the claimant to satisfy all or part of the debt. Sexual innuendo, suggestive comments and even plain compliments may land you in a courtroom.
Could It Happen To You?
As a small business owner, you might have only a handful of employees. In small operations, the friendships between bosses and employees is closer than the relationships within large businesses with 50 or more people. Confined working space creates a closer connection between people. The atmosphere of this environment promotes a deeper freedom of speech. This could be in the form of profanity, sexual innuendo, religion, politics and other conversation that could be deemed offensive to someone. Although someone might participate in an offensive conversation, it does not preclude that person from one day filing a lawsuit against you in retaliation for a termination or even a disagreement between the two of you. With so much riding on the gamble, it’s best to steer clear of bad situations.