Pittsburgh Employment Law Blog

Set the tone for your company with a handbook

Many things can lead to an employer facing litigation. One option that you have to combat some of these is to have the rules and guidelines for the company spelled out clearly in a handbook. This gives employees a look at what's allowed and what isn't. From there, you can fine tune the specifics of the handbook so that it meets the needs of all employees.

By creating an employee handbook, you are setting expectations for them. You are letting them know that you mean business. Interestingly, only around 87% of small businesses that have from 10 to 200 employees have a handbook established.

Reasonable accommodations in the workplace

Employers have to walk a fine line between ensuring that their employees have what they need to get the job done and protecting the bottom line. When workers have disabilities, the company will have to determine what reasonable accommodations it needs to make for the person. This is sometimes a complicated matter because there isn't a list of required accommodations.

In the simplest terms, a reasonable accommodation is something that the employer can provide to a person so they can perform essential job duties. The challenge with determining this is that the company's finances and other factors come into the picture to decide what is reasonable.

Plan for addressing sexual harassment complaints at your company

Employers have a duty to investigate any claims that employees make regarding sexual harassment. When an employee approaches their manager, supervisor or any other company representative with a complaint of sexual harassment, swift action is necessary. The reaction of your management team to these complaints can impact how the complainant reacts.

One of the most important things to do in these cases is maintain confidentiality. You will discuss some aspects of the matter during the investigative process. Many companies have a dedicated person to handle these cases. Discussions about the alleged incident with that individual must be kept confidential as well. Any breaches of this confidentiality can have an adverse effect on the outcome of the matter.

Explore your options quickly for employment litigation issues

Employment litigation is something that many business owners don't ever want to have to deal with. These cases can take considerable time and energy. In some cases, they are expensive to handle. It is always better to try to thwart situations that might lead to litigation. This isn't always easy, but the first step is having a solid employee handbook that is filled with policies that align with the law.

We recently discussed the steps that you should take to document employee issues and write-ups, but this isn't enough to help in these cases. You need to show that your company tried to proactively prevent the issue that occurred. This can help because it shows whether the employee broke the rules with the actions they took or not.

Document all employee disciplinary actions

One thing that you should remember as an employer is that everything related to your employees' performance needs to be documented. This includes any discussions or other actions based on performance issues. Keeping this documentation can help you address any claims that are made against your company that are related to adverse employment actions.

Many managers might try to skip documentation because it is time-consuming and may not seem important. You must insist that they document everything because even small infractions can be very important if you have to demote or terminate someone.

Minimize the risk that pay issues will cause a company problems

Your employees count on your company to have the payroll set up so that they can always have their pay when they are supposed to get it. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has specific guidelines that you must ensure are being followed at all times. You should learn all about the FLSA so that you can be sure that your employees are getting what's due to them and that your company isn't facing legal issues because of violations.

We know that you have to do what is best for your company, but this can't come at the expense of the people who are helping your business grow. When you think about where your company would be without your employees, you will come to see why it is important that you take care of them.

Evaluate leave requests from employees carefully

Workers sometimes need to take time off of work for medical reasons or to deal with a family situation. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per 12-month period to handle covered issues. For employers, understanding what qualifies as a valid reason for the time off is necessary since denied claims that should have been approved can lead to issues.

Employees who have a valid reason for needing the time off should ensure they take the proper steps to request time off. The employee should give you at least 30 days' notice unless that is impossible. In some cases, they might not be able to tell you the exact date they will need off; however, they should discuss the matter with you if they know that they will need time off for something. For example, a woman won't know the exact day she will go into labor, but she can let you know that she is pregnant and when she is due, so you know that she will need off.

Disabled workers might seek reasonable accommodations

As an employer, you are expected to know about a host of employment laws. One that you might not be too familiar with is the reasonable accommodation law for people who have disabilities. In the simplest of terms, you have to provide employees who are disabled with special accommodations unless doing to so would present an undue hardship to your company.

There aren't any hard rules that you will find about what is expected and what isn't. Instead, your company's specifics will play a large role in what you are required to do. Typically, larger businesses are able to make larger accommodations than a smaller one. This is because they might have more wiggle room in the budget and may have other workers who can lend a hand when needed.

Understand the difference between exempt and nonexempt employees

One of the protection laws that employers have to abide by is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Under this act, employees are due specific points, such as overtime pay. As an employer, it is necessary that you think carefully about how you will ensure compliance at your company.

The presence of "exempt" and "nonexempt" in the FLSA throws some employers for a loop. It is imperative that you know how this impacts your company. Typically, this law only covers employees that aren't covered under other labor law provisions. For example, truckers are governed by the Motor Carriers Act and railroad employees are covered by the Railway Labor Act. Additionally, many agricultural employees and movie theater employees aren't covered by the FLSA.

Retaliation must be forbidden at your company

You need to ensure that your business avoids any retaliation against employees who are participating in protected activities. It is easy to understand that a manager might get upset when a complaint is filed against them for something like violating wage and hour laws or harassment laws -- but they can't be permitted to act on those feelings in a way that could be construed as retaliation. Under the bounds of federal law, retaliation is something that can lead to litigation against your company.

Everyone in your company should know the definition of retaliation. In its simplest form, retaliation is somehow negatively affecting the employment of someone in response to their protected activity. This can mean an employee is terminated, gets a pay cut, sees a drop in hours, is moved to a less desirable shift, is demoted or is passed over for a promotion they were due because of whatever they did that provoked the ire of their superior.