CHICAGO — I realize that some of you just don’t like having to deal with employees, even if you only have one or two. You don’t like to look for employees, and you don’t like the turnover that often occurs.
If these things aren’t big enough headaches, there’s the new minimum wage legislation to think about. By summer 2009, all minimum wage jobs will pay no less than $7.25 an hour.
With all of this news, the last thing you need is any legal problem pertaining to employees.
Gone are the days when an employer who used good judgment and common sense could avoid serious legal problems. Today, your coin laundry must comply with a whole slew of federal and state laws. As you know, there are laws that make many kinds of discrimination illegal. And there are other laws that protect a worker’s privacy.
Another legal risk is that judges and juries are often sympathetic to the claims of employees and job applicants. This means that, as an employer, your business faces the possibility of being hit with a huge verdict.
Still, there’s a lot you can do to keep the legal risks to an absolute minimum. Here are four strategies that you can use during the hiring process.
SENSIBLE JOB DESCRIPTIONS
A good job description has two major components: the job duties and the qualifications for the job.
Creating job descriptions forces you to think realistically about your employment needs — and the kinds of people for whom you’re looking to fill those positions. From a legal standpoint, job descriptions can help you:
* add objectivity to the hiring process, reducing the risk that you’ll be accused of illegal discrimination,
* impose uniformity if another person, such as your manager, is responsible for screening applicants, and
* assure that people with disabilities get a fair crack at job openings, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
DOUBLE-CHECK YOUR ADS
Even the best-written job description won’t save you from grief if your job ads send the wrong message. Make sure that nothing in an ad looks like a subtle attempt to skirt the non-discrimination rules. Your help-wanted ads should be free from any wording that might favor men over woman (or vice versa), or might discourage older workers from applying. You need to focus on the job duties rather than the personal status of the applicant.
Here’s an ad that could get a business into trouble: “College student wanted for waiter. Only church-going, non-smoking candidates need apply.”
Why can this ad lead to problems?
* Since most college students are in their late teens or early twenties, workers 40 years of age or older would feel excluded.
* The emphasis on college may disproportionately affect African-American and Hispanic applicants, who are less likely than Caucasians to attend college.
* Mentioning church excludes a huge number of prospective applicants for religious reasons.
* Seeking non-smokers might violate laws that prohibit an employer from interfering with an employee’s lawful off-the-job activities.
You could find many good candidates and avoid any raised eyebrows with an ad like this one: “Home-style, smoke-free restaurant seeks energetic person to wait tables 5-9 p.m., Monday through Friday. Campus-town location. Will train.”
Bring out one of your coin laundry help-wanted ads. Is it similar to the first example or the second example?
A standard job-application form makes it easier to compare the skills and experience of those who apply. This helps dispel any suspicion that you’re engaging in illegal discrimination. A well-created form will seek the following information from applicants:
* What is your name, address and phone number?
* Are you legally entitled to work in the United States?
* If you are hired, when can you start?
* What is your educational background?
* Describe your employment history — name, address and phone number of past employers, dates of employment, responsibilities, etc.
* Do you have any special training that helps qualify you for this position?
You’re on safe ground with these basics. When your application ventures beyond these areas, you may run afoul of federal and state laws.
Don’t ask for an applicant’s age — though you can ask if the applicant is 18 years of age or older, if that’s the legal age for employment. Don’t inquire about an applicant’s religion or marital status. Don’t ask if the applicant has ever been arrested, but it’s OK to ask about convictions.
Under the ADA, before you offer someone a job, you’re limited in what you can ask about that person’s disability. You can only ask whether he/she can perform specific job functions. Don’t ask about the nature or severity of a disability, or the applicant’s medical or treatment history. (Later, if you make a conditional offer of employment, you can gather more details.)
FORM A LEGAL SHIELD
Your job application form can help establish that the applicant, if hired, will have at-will status. You’re free to fire an at-will employee for any reason or no reason at all. Consider including language like the following in your job application form: “I acknowledge that if I’m hired, I will be an at-will employee. I will be subject to dismissal or discipline without notice or cause, at the discretion of the employer. I also understand that I am free to quit my employment at any time for any reason, with notice.”
And to stress that accuracy in the job application is important, consider including language like this: “The statements I have made in this application are true and complete. I understand that if I’m hired, any false or incomplete statements will be grounds for immediate discharge.”
If you have any questions or comments about this column, contact American Coin-Op at 312-337-7700.