Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

Recently in Employment Issues Category

Mr. Dane Lane and Ms. Allegra Schawe-Lane were husband and wife when they began working at an Amazon warehouse in Kentucky in 2014, and Schawe-Lane is a transgender woman. This should not be a big deal, especially at an employer as big as Amazon, who had a non-discrimination policy at the time that included sex and gender identity as protected classes.

But that didn't stop their coworkers from escalating discrimination, harassment, and retaliation against the couple, including threats of physical violence and other intimidation. Lane and Schawe-Lane are now suing Amazon under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, asking for damages and an injunction against Amazon's "unlawful employment practices."

Obviously you want to take good care of your employees, and sometimes that means giving them time away from the office. And as an employer, this can be a difficult balance to strike: you hired your employees for a reason -- to work -- but if they're not happy, they won't be working for you for long.

For the most part, federal labor laws strike the balance for you -- most workers are limited to 40 hours per week unless they're paid overtime. But the feds don't have a lot to say about parental leave, especially paid parental leave, and states and cities have recently stepped into the void. So it may be time to re-examine your parental leave policy.

Gone are the good old days of punching a time clock on your way in and out of work. Punch in, you're getting paid; punch out, you're not. Nowadays the kind of work we do, and where and when we do it, has become much more fluid, making it more difficult to determine when we're on and off the clock.

And it seems some employers are trying to take advantage of that. Wage theft lawsuits have been on the rise for years, accusing companies of skirting minimum wage and overtime laws. Now you can count coffee culture behemoth Starbucks among those targeted -- a former employee is suing the company, claiming it and subsidiary Evolution Fresh failed to properly compensate employees. Here's a look.

As more and more states relax marijuana restrictions, more and more of your employees may be taking part. And while some small business owners might think of cannabis like a cocktail and not give a second thought to their staff sparking up after work or even during a business lunch, many more are worried about weed invading the workplace.

So where can employers draw the line between pot-friendly state laws and office policies? Here's a look at marijuana use and employment law, from our archives:

Yes.

That's the short answer. And when it comes to at-will employment, you don't need much more. At-will employment means either side can terminate employment, for any reason or for no reason at all.

Still, there are some limitations to at-will firings. And after any high-profile firing based on an employee's statements, many will wonder if the First Amendment or free speech principles apply. So let's take a look.

American Airlines employees got some new uniforms last fall, but that hasn't been good news for many of them. Since the introduction of the new uniforms, manufactured by Twin Hill, over 5,000 flight attendants, pilots, gate agents, and customer service representatives have reported physical or allergic reactions to the new work wear, including rashes, hives, and headaches, and even severe respiratory issues.

American Airlines finally cut ties with Twin Hall in June, but two employees have filed a lawsuit against the clothing manufacturer, seeking a full recall of the harmful uniforms as well as a fund to pay for medical care and monitoring of American Airlines employees exposed to the uniforms.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of three Filipino immigrants against a couple and their various Oklahoma business enterprises, claiming the entities breached employment contracts, violated federal wage and immigrations laws, and participated in what amounts to human trafficking.

The suit claims that Walter and Carolyn Schumacher, along with a company that recruited workers, enticed Filipino nationals with promises of good pay and free housing, then exploited those workers for cheap labor, and used ties with law enforcement to intimidate workers.

Few, if any, small businesses set out and decide they will discriminate against their employees based on sex or gender. More often, discriminatory acts or policies are entrenched from outdated approaches or the behavior of a rogue employee. Still, sex discrimination in employment happens far too often, with employees paying the price first, then companies later when they are sued.

So here are a few legal updates and tips on avoiding or rectifying sex and gender discrimination at your small business, from our archives:

In a corporate world where people don't need to carry work ID badges, one company is offering to microchip its own employees for convenience, and marketing, of course. Approximately 50 employees at Three Square Market in Wisconsin are expected to volunteer to be chipped.

The RFID chips, which are the size of a grain of rice, will be implanted in the skin between the thumb and forefinger. The chips will be used as employee ID badges, and will work to open doors, login to computers, and can even be used to purchase food in their onsite self-service marketplace. All it takes is a waving of the hand a few inches away from the sensor.

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego is one of the premier scientific research labs in the world. After all, it's named after the man who cured polio. And you would think that an institute studying cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, would treat all of its researchers equally, and reward them based on merit alone.

But three female professors at Salk have sued the institute, claiming a "hostile environment in which they are undermined, disrespected, disparaged, and treated unequally."