Small Business Employment Issues - Free Enterprise
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From the Sony hack to Hilary Clinton, work email has been all over the news lately. This may leave many employers wondering how closely they can or should monitor their employees' emails.

In some cases, federal law limits how much an employer can monitor electronic correspondence and protects certain kinds of speech in work emails. Employers need to have a plan in place (and make sure its legal) to keep this workplace convenience from becoming an office catastrophe.

What is the tip policy in your restaurant? Do your servers share tips with the busboys? Do you charge a set amount for parties of eight or more? Do you want to get rid of the headache of tips?

A growing number of restaurants are doing away with the concept of tipping completely. Bar Marco, an upscale Pittsburg restaurant, abolished their tip program opting to pay employees a base salary with health care benefits and stock shares instead. Brand 158, in California, adopted a no-tipping policy to discourage competition among employees. Servers at New York's Sushi Yasuda even run after customers to return tips. Are you considering implementing a no-tip policy for your restaurant?

What are some legal concerns of a no-tip policy you should worry about?

Severance packages are becoming more and more popular these days, and are no longer just golden parachutes for exiting executives. In fact, some states require severance pay in certain circumstances.

So how do you know when to offer soon-to-be-former employees severance packages, and what does a severance package need to include? Here are a few tips to help:

Whether you're an established business that doesn't want its proprietary information used by a competitor, or an upstart that doesn't want its secrets getting out, you may be looking at a non-compete agreement as a way to protect your trade secrets and maintain your customer base.

And the key to creating an enforceable non-compete agreement is all in the craft. So, here are a few considerations to keep in mind when crafting your non-compete clause or contract:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has settled yet another HIV discrimination action. Gregory Packing, the manufacturer and distributor of Suncup juice products, agreed to pay $125,000 to settle charges that it illegally terminated a machine operator after learning he was HIV positive. The settlement also requires the manufacturer to institute equal opportunity training and reporting measures.

Over the past few years, the EEOC has increased its enforcement actions against HIV discrimination. Business owners should take this as a reminder that violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which covers a wide range of individuals and conditions, can come with steep penalties.

Ellen Pao has Silicon Valley riveted on her lawsuit against her former employer Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, alleging sexual harassment and gender bias.

Pao took the stand to testify this week. She described alleged sexual harassment by a coworker whom she previously had an affair with, recounted incidents of sexist jokes made by former coworkers, and claimed that she was denied promotions because of her gender.

Sexual harassment issues in the workplace can cause a lot of trouble for any business. In light of Ellen Pao's lawsuit, here are three lessons for small business owners -- in the form of questions you may want to ask yourself:

By now you should know whether your small business has to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). What you may not know is whether you can be a little overzealous in asking about the health of your employees.

As it turns out, the ADA prohibits employers from subjecting employees to "overly broad medical inquiries," as a trucking company found out when it required all of its drivers to notify the company of any contact with a medical professional. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ordered PAM Transport to pay $477,399 in back pay and damages for asking its employees to report even routine physicals to management.

So how much medical info can employers require from employees? Let's see where the ADA and EEOC draw the line:

A change to the rule regarding employment authorization for H-4 visa holders could also bring benefits for employers.

As part of President Obama's executive action on immigration reform, the Department of Homeland Security will soon allow H-4 visa holders to apply for employment authorization. Under the old rule, H-4 visa holders, who came to the United States with their H-1B spouses, were not allowed to work here. Beginning in May, H-4 visa holders will be able to apply for employment authorization that would allow them to work anywhere in the country.

Proponents of this change claim that the new rule will not only benefit H-4 visa holders but also startups looking to hire skilled workers.

We all want to have workspaces that our employees enjoy, but sometimes we can take it a bit too far. And a couple of recent stories illustrate the injury risk of office play areas.

So read on before you install your company carousel in the lobby.

Walmart has settled a lawsuit brought by the EEOC on behalf of David Moorman, a former manager at a Walmart store in Keller, Texas. The suit alleged age and disability discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

According to Moorman's claims, his direct supervisors frequently called him "old man" and "old food guy". After he was diagnosed with diabetes, he requested reassignment from a manager position to an assistant manager position. Moorman alleged that Walmart refused to consider his request for a reasonable accommodation and eventually fired him.

With disability and age discrimination claims on the rise, here are three lessons business owners can take away from this case: