Virtually every entrepreneur in the start-up phase of his or her venture looks forward to the time when the small businesses grows to the point where hiring employees becomes necessary. However, many entrepreneurs are unaware of the numerous labor issues that employers must contend with. Charles H. Wilson is a labor attorney with global law firm Cozen O’Connor that specializes in businesses and labor and employment matters, including litigation, labor and employment issues.
According to Wilson, there are five major issues in the workplace that small business owners need to be aware of:
Facebook posts can be used in harassment decisions. Social media is ubiquitous and people are more comfortable talking online about almost anything and everything – including their co-workers and/or supervisors. “What will happen is other people find out or the people that are the subject of the comments will find out, and they’ll file a harassment complaint. Or they may complain that this person is spreading rumors about me or is saying some very derogatory things on Facebook where other coworkers can see, and this is affecting work,” says Wilson. Courts are increasingly allowing into evidence posts made in the social media space to determine whether harassment did take place. “I think that the fix is just looking at your policies and revising them as necessary in a way to make sure that you’re not telling employees that you’re going to punish them if they talk generally about the terms and conditions of their employment, which could include criticizing the competence of their coworkers.”
Transgender discrimination is now actionable. According to Wilson, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender or transsexualism per se, but it does protect employees from gender discrimination. “There has been this notion that if you stereotype individuals for not, for example, acting female enough or acting male enough in the workplace, that is within the purview of gender discrimination,” he says. “So that concept has evolved to cover, currently, transgender because the theory is if a person is about to have a sex change or has had the sex change, but the coworkers or the supervisors in the workplace are harassing this individual because of the stereotype that they’re not…on the surface they look like a woman, but they’re not acing like a woman because they want to get a sex change to a man.” Wilson adds that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken the position that that type of discrimination where you’re stereotyping transgendered individuals is illegal gender discrimination, and advises that small businesses make it clear in their policies that gender discrimination won’t be tolerated.