5 More Common Ways Businesses Unknowingly Break the Law

By Katherine Muniz
May 22, 2017

We received a lot of interest from readers after publishing our article on common ways businesses unknowingly break the law, which we included in our monthly newsletter. With the advice of those same legal contacts, we are sharing some additional blunders that can get businesses into big trouble today.

Here are five more common ways businesses unknowingly break the law:

1. Mishandling Medical Situations

According to Employment Attorney J Bryan Wood, Founder of The Wood Law Office LLC, employers commonly break the law in ways that don’t really matter. However, there are a few ways that do, like mishandling their employees’ medical situations.

“One important thing employers frequently mishandle is their employees’ medical situations – particularly non-work-related ones where an employee misses time and needs to return gradually. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is technical and compliance can be hard, but even if it doesn’t apply, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can impose different or additional obligations. Both laws have to be balanced against disability plans and state and – more recently – local obligations regarding paid sick leave. Investing in compliance and having a knowledgeable resource helps.”

FingerCheck offers HR Concierge, a certified and credentialed web portal that provides an extensive library of resources and one-on-one personalized advice and services to help business owners manage the headaches of administering and complying with labor laws (call 1-800-610-9501 for more details).

2. Asking Inappropriate Questions in the Hiring Process

When interviewing candidates, there is some question that just shouldn’t be asked, says Charles Read, CPA, and President of GetPayroll. “The following is a list of questions you cannot ask a prospective employee.  It may not always make sense to the average person. However, it is the law.

  1. Are you a citizen of the United States?
  2. What is your native tongue?
  3. How long have you lived in the United States or in this area?
  4. What religion do you practice?
  5. Do you observe any religious holidays?
  6. Do you belong to any clubs or social organizations?
  7. What is your age?
  8. Are you engaged/married?
  9. Are you planning on having children?
  10. Do you have any children?
  11. What do your mother and father do for a living?
  12. How do you feel about having women (or men) work for you?
  13. What is your opinion of inter-office relationships?
  14. Do you drink or smoke?
  15. Do you take drugs?  (However: You may ask if s/he takes take illegal drugs.)
  16. What is your height?
  17. What is your weight?
  18. Are you disabled in any way?
  19. Do you live nearby?
  20. Do you have an arrest record?
  21. Have you been honorably discharged from the military?

A lot of the information you are looking for can be asked in a roundabout way, but the above questions can get you into trouble.”

3. Miswriting Employee Agreements

“Another area of non-compliance that can impact profitability and, for smaller businesses, viability relates to employment agreements,” says J Bryan. “Employers frequently use overly broad non-compete or non-solicit agreements that may not be enforceable – they believe they’re protected but may be exposed. This is another area where it pays to examine agreements closely, to ensure they’re broad enough to protect what matters but narrow enough to be enforceable. Another common area is wage and hour laws, which are frequently misapplied. Non-compliance frequently is due to the technical complexity of simple ignorance. Compliance is tricky, laws change frequently and state and localities are frequently adding obligations.”

4. Fining Employees for Misdeeds

“There are all kinds of bad employers in the world and the following is a favorite of mine as well as the author Kim Bobo,” says Charles. “The original policy was obtained from Anna Karewicz, Polish worker rights advocate, Arise Chicago Workers Center, and is a list of fines for “misdeeds” that the employer handed out. All of which are illegal.

  1. Being late for work – $100.
  2. Being absent without giving at least 48 hours notification – $250 and up.
  3. Forgetting to lock the trucks – $100 from all crew members.
  4. Smoking on job site or in company vehicles – $150 and up.
  5. Possession of alcohol on-site – first offense $500, second $1000, third $1500.
  6. Quitting without giving two weeks’ notice will forfeit the worker’s previous weeks’ work unless the worker had been there more than 6 months, in which case the worker must give a month notice or lose paychecks.

This employer sums up the policy: “If you think that your presence (spirit) at the job site is enough to get paid you are wrong. Before you are paid you must reveal the quality and quantity of your work and your loyalty to the company. In the future, this is what your payment will be based upon.”

5. Not Hanging the Required Posters

“Areas of non-compliance that don’t matter as much relate to required postings or language in handbooks the NLRB may say discourages concerted activity,” says J Bryan. “But those types of violations rarely impact a business’s bottom line. You shouldn’t ignore them, but they aren’t the highest priority compliance issues.”

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