Small Business Employment Issues - Free Enterprise
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The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) prevailed earlier this week in a lawsuit that pitted a religious employee against an employer that wouldn't give him a reasonable accommodation.

Well, it's really more complicated than that. The employee claimed that the employer's biometric hand-scanning system, used for time tracking, would brand him with the Biblical "Mark of the Beast." He quit after neither he nor the employer could come to an agreement; later, he got the EEOC involved.

This case is certainly an outlier, but it does bring up the issue of religious accommodation in the workplace. Here's what business owners need to know:

Following closely on news that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) intends to sue McDonald's as a "joint employer" along with its franchisees, 10 former McDonald's employees in Virginia are suing the franchisee and McDonald's for employment discrimination under the Civil Rights Act.

The ex-employees claim that they were subject to racially charged language and that supervisors at their McDonald's fired black and Hispanic employees because they didn't "fit the profile."

What does this mean for franchisees and corporations?

Among the hundreds of new California laws that went into effect this year is AB 1897. The law affects businesses that use contracting agencies to hire contract employees, making the business liable for the wage and hour violations of the contract agency.

The law is designed to encourage businesses to police their own contractors, using the stick of liability if they don't. Workers whose contracting agencies fail to pay required overtime, for example, can sue either the agency or the business that hired the agency to provide the contract labor.

What do California businesses need to know about this new law?

In the business world, "shrinkage" (loss of inventory due to theft) and "breakage" (stuff getting broken) can eat into revenue, especially in the restaurant business. Dishes get broken, customers leave without paying -- what's a business owner to do?

It's tempting to make employees pay for that. After all, they broke the dishes. They weren't vigilant enough to catch the customers dining and dashing. It's only fair to make them pay for their negligence, right?

Except that, depending on where you are, that might be a violation of state labor laws.

Media giant Viacom has reached a settlement in a class action lawsuit brought by former unpaid interns of the company.

The terms of the settlement have not yet been disclosed, according to The Hollywood Reporter. But Viacom -- whose holdings include MTV, Paramount Pictures and Comedy Central -- is just the latest media company to have an internship policy come back to bite them in the form of a class action lawsuit.

What did Viacom allegedly do wrong, and what can small business owners learn from this case?

One of the goals of Free Enterprise is to inform employers about how to legally deal with employees, both in company policy and on an individual level.

Being an effective small business owner sometimes means firing employees, accommodating disabilities, and improving morale -- all while complying with state and federal labor laws. This may seem like an impossible juggling act, but in the past year, Free Enterprise covered most of the basics.

For 2014, here are our 10 most popular blog posts about handling employees:

A Utah man was hospitalized after chugging a quart of eggnog at his office holiday party.

Ryan Roche was able to chug an entire quart of alcohol-free eggnog in 12 seconds, reports the New York Daily News. For his efforts, the 32-year-old Roche was crowned the winner of the contest. Unfortunately, he almost lost his life in the process.

What happened to Roche and why should employers discourage these sorts of antics at office parties?

The NLRB has filed 13 complaints against McDonald's, accusing the fast food giant of allowing employees to be fired for participating in protests or union activity.

McDonald's is being drawn in to court as a "joint employer," meaning that the NLRB wishes to hold the company liable for the alleged labor violations of its franchisees. Reuters reports that the complaints made by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will be heard by administrative law judges in March.

What is McDonald's being accused of?

Online real estate marketplace Zillow was hit with five new lawsuits this week alleging employee discrimination, retaliation, and other mistreatment of workers.

The five lawsuits were all filed by the law firm of Geragos & Geragos, reports LAist. Geragos & Geragos is the same law firm representing a Zillow employee who sued the company earlier this month for sexual harassment. In that lawsuit, former Zillow employee Rachel Kremer described the company's Irvine, California office as having an "adult frat house" culture. The latest lawsuits also involve employees who worked at the Irvine office.

What can small business owners learn from these employment lawsuits filed against Zillow? Here are three lessons:

The National Labor Relations Board ruled last week that employees should be permitted to use work email for union organizing activities.

The ruling represents a reversal of a 2007 NLRB decision allowing employers to prohibit such communications through company email, reports Reuters. The case involved employees of Purple Communications, a sign language interpreting service based in California. A workers' union had challenged a company policy prohibiting employees from using work email to "engage in activities on behalf of organizations."

What led to the NLRB's reversal on employees' rights to organize over company email?