The Office Legal Landscape

American labor laws are generally seen as being more friendly to the employers than their employees, but that doesn’t mean American offices are free-for-alls where anything goes and the workers just have to shut up and deal with it. There are certain things that remain both very illegal and ethically dubious. If you’re running an office, you need to make sure the managers don’t slip and do anything that gets the business in trouble with the law. These mistakes can happen sometimes because of ignorance, but other times, people in power can intentionally go overboard unless someone reins them in quickly.

Hiring and firing

Employers should not discriminate against certain protected classes when making decisions about who to hire and who to fire. We’ve all seen jobs posted that say something like ‘Business is an equal opportunity employer,” and there’s a reason for that. Take a look at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website and check out the news about businesses charged with violations. For instance, a well-known department store chain had to pay $75,000 after firing an employee with asthma for missing a day of work because she required urgent medical attention. Such conduct violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Similarly, a company that posts a job ad that says something like “No Hispanics, please” is just asking for trouble. If that seems like an over-the-top example, there are less obvious ones as well. Check out information about the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 before posting an ad seeking a “young, 20-something worker who can keep up with the demands of the job.” You can list a job as entry-level, but you can’t insert language that could be seen as discouraging certain protected groups from filling out an application.

Training your team

If your managers aren’t familiar with the various forms of discrimination, it’s past time to get them up to speed courtesy of some employment law training videos and seminars. Such guides outline what conduct is and isn’t permissible. For instance, almost every state has “at-will” laws that allow most employees to be fired for almost any reason. Similarly, it also allows employees to leave a job at any time for any reason. There are exceptions, though. You can’t fire someone for a discriminatory reason, and you can’t fire a worker just because they filed a claim for workers’ compensation. Firing someone because they wouldn’t break the law on your behalf is also a no-no. Laws vary from state to state, so make sure your office leaders are up-to-date on the latest rules and regulations in your location. It’s much easier to give your employees proper training than it is to hire a commercial litigation lawyer to defend you against a class-action lawsuit.

All of this information doesn’t mean your managers should be afraid to communicate with their team for fear of accidentally saying something illegal. That’s not the right approach, and it makes about as much sense as a company deciding that the best way to prevent sexual harassment is to stop hiring women, a decision that would be very illegal. Instead, managers should get educated so they can feel confident that they’re contributing to a workplace that is open-minded and encourages diversity in all its forms.

Adam Hansen

Adam is a part time journalist, entrepreneur, investor and father.