In the United States, several key pieces of legislation protect employee rights. These arose as a result of workers unionizing and agitating for fairer conditions over different periods in modern history. The labor legislation covers several different areas, but they’re all important in ensuring the safety and well-being of your staff members. Ensuring this, in turn, helps to protect the well-being of your business.
Omission, Not Malice
Employee rights regulations came about largely because of undesirable situations and circumstances. For instance, if there was no discrimination, there would arguably be no need for the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and other laws. However, there are now so many rules that companies can easily drop the ball on some of them.
In these instances, employers are not being intentionally cruel or malicious; they are simply making human mistakes. The root cause notwithstanding, these errors can lead to real harm on the part of staffers who, through legal channels, can make businesses take responsibility for their actions.
Even if the workers don’t suffer due to the oversights, they still have the right to pursue the matter to the full extent of the law. If this happens to you and your business is found liable, you’ll have to face consequences that could be very steep. These consequences include litigation and penalties, demoralized employees, and profound damage to your brand.
Litigation and Penalties
Depending on the specific situation, staff members who have been wronged or who are disgruntled for any reason may be able to claim for value of lost benefits (such as medical costs), back pay and cost and interest pertaining to the legal process. If the case goes to court and you get tied up in litigation, your own legal fees will also be exorbitant.
Employees who feel undervalued, or that their company doesn’t really take care of them and look after their welfare, can easily become demoralized. They’re likely to be far less motivated to work hard in their general duties, and even less so to do what it takes to improve the business.
In a situation like this, staffers probably won’t feel loyal to you or your organization. They’ll find it easier not only to take you to court if you’ve inadvertently neglected any of their rights, but also to jump ship to another company.
As a concrete example of this, consider the minimum wages and overtime rates prescribed in the Fair Labor Standards Act. If these levels are not upheld, staffers can choose to file a complaint with the Department of Labor, leave to work somewhere else, or both. That leaves you to cover the cost, in time and money, of interviewing, appointing and possibly training new people.
Profound Brand Damage
An employee who is unhappy or disloyal to your brand is liable to do great damage to your image. For instance, picture a sales agent or receptionist who is surly when speaking to your customers. Public knowledge of worker mistreatment is often enough to cause a backlash; Starbucks faced relentless public scrutiny when their clopening scandal hit.
The coffee giant was accused of unfair scheduling practices, demanding that the same baristas closed a store at night and then opened again the very next morning. The trial by media, which could have been avoided completely, was fierce and greatly dented the brand’s reputation.
Know the Letter of the Law
Looking after staff members’ rights is a basic, decent course of action and shows respect for fellow human beings. At the same time, it’s advisable to know exactly what you are required to do so that you don’t overextend your company or fall prey to opportunistic employees yourself.
Make sure you know the minimum wage as set by the Fair Labor Standards Act and your state. Besides ensuring a living wage for workers, these standards ensure a competitive marketplace and a healthier economy.
You also need to know and follow regulations concerning discrimination relating to age, gender, sexual orientation, religion and any other issues. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or any related medical conditions, is one such statute that some employers are not aware of. The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act covers discrimination based on disability, as well as accessibility requirements to ensure disabled individuals can complete their jobs.
Another issue that you may not know is connected to employee rights is protection from retaliation. An Alabama-based federal jury ordered the Chemical Lime Company (CLC) to pay Albert Thomas $314,000 in 2011.
Thomas had filed harassment charges against the CLC, with the US Equal Opportunities Commission. Ultimately, the jury found that the CLC was not guilty of harassment, but that it had retaliated against Thomas when he filed the charges. As this case shows, retaliation against an employee can be very expensive.
Other regulations governing the state and safety of the workplace (such as the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993), workers’ compensation insurance and taxes are equally important. As the business owner, the onus is on you to comply with all of these so that your company is not penalized and your workers’ jobs remain safe.
Customize and Automate Company Policies
Once you are familiar with all the employee rights statutes that pertain to your company, you need to consider exactly how to enforce them. Formulate policies that deal with every situation, as well as protocols for what to do in unexpected or unforeseen circumstances. Depending on the size of your organization, you might want to bring in a consultant to help you with this.
Everyone on your payroll needs to be informed of all policies, so hold regular meetings to advise them of new and existing company procedures. Follow these training sessions up with question and answer rounds, and with strategically placed, reader-friendly posters on the office or factory floor. Finally, review the systems and protocols that you have in place, along with any new acts or legislative updates, on a regular basis.
Your company and workforce will benefit if you are well educated on labor legislation and take proper care of employees’ rights. By looking after your employees you’ll improve productivity, promote well-being in the workplace and potentially avoid legal issues that could incur extremely high costs.