Whether you have a handful of employees you work closely with on a daily basis or you manage multiple business locations with their own staffing requirements, there are many state and federal laws that outline your rights and responsibilities as a New Jersey employer. Knowing how to handle common challenges can help you reduce the risk of legal problems, but we encourage you to contact our office with any specific concerns you may have.
Following the Appropriate Rules and Regulations
Rules and regulations can be an annoyance, but attending to them can save you time, money, and just possibly a loss in litigation. Remember the following tips:
- Disseminate information. Keep your postings complete and current. You know all those required things that get hung in the lunchroom, but no one reads? Yes, those. Put someone in charge and make it happen.
- Keep job descriptions up to date. Speaking of complete and current, what kind of shape are your company's job descriptions in? If they're incomplete or don't reflect the growth in your business, get them updated.
- Distribute your employee handbook. You spent good money on an employee handbook. Make sure it gets distributed to everyone, and you have a written acknowledgment of receipt.
Paying People Appropriately
It is imperative to follow all the rules and regulations in regards to the compensation of your workforce. Here are three tips:
- Make sure contractors are correctly classified. They may really be employees, which has wage and tax ramifications. Making a mistake on this can be expensive. If in doubt, check it out.
- Follow the overtime rules. Do you pay overtime when non-exempt employees work more than 40 hours a week? It can get tricky. Consider: if an employee works 40 hours each week for two weeks, for a total of 80 in a pay period, he gets regular pay. But if he works 80 hours in week one and zero in week two, for the same total of 80, you owe him 40 hours paid at his regular rate and 40 at time and a half.
- Call an attorney if you receive an audit notice. If you receive a notice that you will be the subject of a Department of Labor audit, it's time to call your employment attorney. Not only should you get help with the audit for its own sake, but audits are often triggered by an employee's complaint.
Handling Performance Problems
Someone on your team isn't keeping up. You're worried. What can you do? Here’s how to proceed:
- Identify the problem. Get it on the table with the employee, but don't make any promises.
- Consider coaching. You might even consider placing the employee on a performance improvement plan (PIP). Just be careful. Done correctly, a PIP can be a benefit to the company and the struggling employee. Done the wrong way, it can be the evidence that a plaintiff's lawyer uses to beat you in court.
- Document everything. Having a paper trail can greatly aid in your defense in any litigation. If you have questions about how to document incidents, call us for assistance.
Terminating an Employee
It's hard to be a boss. You have to make tough and sometimes unpleasant decisions. Never forget that it's equally tough to be an employee and an ex-employee. When you've made the difficult decision to let someone go, treat them with respect and compassion. We've seen lawsuits begun that would have been avoided if the employer had simply allowed the employee to retain her dignity upon the loss of a job:
- Be honest. Be as honest as possible about the reasons for termination. Don't tell a long-term employee for the first time that she's doing a poor job. It makes people mad, and justifiably so.
- Be sensitive. Time a termination to avoid undue embarrassment to the departing employee.
- Be respectful. Do not have an employee “walked out” by security unless she presents a true security risk. There is little that is more humiliating.
Addressing Allegations of Sexual Harassment
When bad things happen in the workplace, they have a way of happening fast. When your HR person calls and says, “we have a problem,” your immediate attention is needed. This kind of situation often arises when an employee complains that they have been sexually harassed:
- Take every complaint seriously. Don't pre-judge one way or the other. Move quickly.
- Act decisively. Don't punish the victim. Send the people involved to neutral corners. Consider putting the alleged offender out on leave.
- Investigate. Who should conduct the investigation? This is a decision worthy of serious thought. It might be someone in HR. It might be someone from outside the company—possibly an attorney, HR consultant, or former law enforcement. Get good advice, designate or retain an investigator, and get it moving. It's important to your company's legal well-being.
Reacting to a Lawsuit
How to react to a lawsuit being filed against you, especially for smaller businesses, is critical. You probably feel hurt by your former employee's accusations and think that you are being accused unjustly. But you are concerned about the risk of a bad result, the cost of a successful defense, and the time fighting the lawsuit will take away from your business. How do you balance it all out and make a sound business decision?
- Be realistic. Be sure that you understand the downside as well as the upside in pursuing further action.
- Be objective. Try to remove the emotion from your thinking and take a good hard look at what makes sound business sense. Depending upon the situation, your options may range from going forward with full-bore litigation to opening discussions aimed at a quick settlement.
- Get the right lawyer. Employment law is complex and ever-changing. You must be represented by someone who has a great deal of employment law experience.
Steinberg Law, LLC is well-equipped to handle a wide range of issues for New Jersey employers. Contact us today to schedule a free case review.