It still shocks me when I hear some of the employment horror stories people endure. Even in states and countries where there are substantial worker protections, We will occasionally learn about the employer who:
- Sexually harassed an assistant
- Dropped an injured worker off at the hospital but denied the employment relationship
- Wanted to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) to get rid of an undocumented worker that was knowingly and willfully hired
- Kept immigrant workers locked in cages in a basement or storage area
- Verbally abused new employees to “break them in”
- Intentionally misrepresented the employment relationship as an independent contract to avoid paying required benefits or taxes
I am glad this behavior shocks me. I don’t want it to ever be so normal that I start accepting it as a fact of life or work. I suspect you have the same vision. Although you might sometimes wonder if you are the fool for playing by the rules, when it seems that so many people are cheating and defying the old adage that “cheaters never win”, your conscience tells you its better to be viewed as a fool than to manipulate others for your sole gain. When you need some additional explanations for respecting your employees and treating them well, remember:
- It’s the law. There are a number of labor laws that require you to be fair: the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA“), the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA“), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA“), the Civil Rights Act, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”), the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA“), and in New York, the Construction Industry Fair Play Act, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, and the Wage Theft Prevention Act. You are presumed to be in a greater position of power than your employees, and you have a duty not to abuse that power.
- You chose them. They chose you, too, but you presumably had more power to make the offer, establish the terms of employment, and hold them accountable. Guess who still has it. Stop pretending that you’re powerless. You treat them how to treat you–and their work. If they’re not meeting your standards, consider some of the daily choices you make to empower (or disempower) them. Choose wisely.
- They have access to your assets. Depending on their job descriptions and duties, the size of your business, or your current projects and needs, your employees might use your computers, smartphones, client lists, confidential client information, trade secrets, bank accounts, credit cards, passwords, social media accounts, websites, automobiles, corporate housing, insurance, and reputation. You’re taking a huge risk in giving them access to these in the first place, don’t increase that risk by treating those with access poorly.
- They are human. Like you, they are doing their best with their bodies, brains, skills, experiences, and beliefs under the unique circumstances of each moment. They’re not perfect. Neither are you. Yet, together, you have twice the human potential to achieve results. You each have quick access to skills you don’t yet possess and thoughts your brain hasn’t produced–or maybe not in ways in which you can use them effectively. Two heads truly are better than one, even if they come with all of those messy human characteristics, too.
- Termination doesn’t end the relationship. Severing a employment only transforms the relationship. As I mentioned in my Women of Distinction interview, you can pretend someone is dead to you, but unless they have actually died, you are still in the same world and, therefore, connected. (Even when they have died, you remain connected, at least loosely, to their families and friends.) They are forever your former employees. You get to choose whether they are your patrons, free advertisers, or passionate protesters.
NOTE: This post is a general overview of some employment laws and best practices. It is not legal advice, and there is certainly no guarantee that any of the actions detailed above will generate a similar or specific result. Past success is never a guarantee of a future outcome. If you require information or advice applied to your unique situation, please make an appointment to discuss it with an attorney. Don’t rely solely on what you read on the Internet.