Many businesses start small, and remain small. Often, small businesses that grow significantly will need a human resources department, and probably some help with employment law. However, businesses with only a couple of employees probably do not have the resources or need to hire an employment law attorney, unless an employee files a lawsuit. The thought of a lawsuit from an employee can be scary. Small business owners can take steps to greatly minimize the odds of an employment lawsuit.

  • Become familiar with federal, state, and local anti-discrimination laws. It may be easy run afoul of the law if you do not take the time to become familiar with it. Learn about California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, and federal laws such as Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act are. Learn about the differences between employees and independent contractors. Become familiar with state and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules, the California Family Rights Act, and the Family Medical Leave Act. Read up on what you are and are not allowed to ask in a jobinterview.
  • Be very careful about who you hire. Before you hire someone, do your research. Depending on the position, you may consider running a background check or asking for a drug test. Before doing so, learn the rules about what you can and cannot ask a potential employee to test for before hiring him or her. You should always look at the social media pages of any prospective employees, which can give valuable clues about what type of employees they would be.
  • Create a fair and transparent workplace. If you maintain a culture of communication with employees, it will be easier to identify unhappy employees. This will help to prevent problems from getting out of control and turning into lawsuits.
  • Do not allow discrimination or harassment at work. If discrimination or harassment at work occurs, it’s the employer who is liable for an employee engaging in bad behavior. Take steps to identify any such behavior that occurs, and follow a processto investigate any complaints of discrimination or harassment. Let all employees know who to speak with if there is an issue with discrimination or harassment. Also assure employees their claims will be promptly and thoroughly investigated, and their case will remain confidential if they request.
  • Document everything. You may have a wonderful workplace with fair, legally appropriate policies, but if you do not have documentation you are going to be in a bind in the event of a lawsuit. You should keep complete records of employee evaluations, any problems or complaints, and all reasoning behind employment decisions. If you are ever sued later, the documentation could provide you with a good defense.
  • Provide your employees with training programs on employment law issues. It’s likely that as a small business owner, you do not have the time to conduct trainings on avoiding sexual harassment, , but there are professionals who will. Educating your employees can help prevent problems later.
  • If you can’t afford to hire a full-time HR person, consult with someone who specializes in human resources. This can help to identify potential problems before they occur.

If you are a small business owner, and you do not have the resources yet to justify a full-time human resources person, but you want to ensure that you comply with all employment laws, consider scheduling a consultation with an employment law attorney. If you are in the Oakland-San Francisco area, call Micha Star Liberty, employment law attorney, at 510-645-1000 to learn more or to schedule a free consultation on your case.

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