Love Contracts – Making Things Easier

The workplace world is more intense than ever. And the likelihood that a workplace romance will develop is increasing – A 2007 Spherion survey showed that about 40% of U.S. workers have dated a co-employee, and another 40% would consider a workplace romance.

Employers generally cannot prohibit employees from dating one another (although you can prohibit supervisors from dating subordinates) – yet 50% of all sexual harassment cases begin when the relationship was consensual.

A non-fraternization policy in your handbook is a start, but generally isn’t good enough. More and more, businesses are starting to rely on love contracts as a method to mitigate the chance of problems when the romance eventually turns sour.

Joseph Gagnon, writing on behalf of Fisher & Phillips LLP, says that

Properly implemented and appropriately drafted, love contracts will reduce the likelihood of litigation arising from workplace relationships.

To my knowledge, love contracts haven’t been fully tested in the courts yet – but Gagnon’s outline of what should be in a ‘love contract’ and its benefits are useful reading.

Here’s the full article.

Out of State Residents Subject To California Labor Law While Working In State

If you have employees who occasionally work in California, here’s some important news for you.

Sullivan v. Oracle Corp, a recently decided federal appeals court decision, found that California labor law applies to nonresident workers. While the decision was based primarily on exempt/non-exempt status of two Colorado-based employees, the ramifications are endless, as outlined by Christopher W. Olmstead:

  • Does the company have sufficient ongoing contacts within the state of California, such that under the Oracle court’s ruling, California labor laws should apply to its workers while working in California?
  • Does the applicable California labor law provide superior protection to the out-of state resident? (In most cases, the answer will be “yes” because of California’s more rigorous laws.)
  • What rights under California law apply to the workers? Consider, for example, wage and hour law (e.g. exempt status, overtime, meal and rest periods), and fair employment practices (e.g. disability law).

If you have non-California employees who work in California – even infrequently – contact your employment attorney.

If it can happen to Oracle, it can happen to you.

Courtesy Barker Olmsted & Barnier

Bad Bosses and Your Health

Working for a bad boss is never fun.

Now, Swedish researchers have shown that working for a bad boss can kill you.

Employees who worked for four years with managers who were inconsiderate, opaque, uncommunicative and poor advocates were about 60 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac condition.

The study tracked 3,100 men over a 10 year period. And it shows that despite best intentions, what happens on the job doesn’t stay at the job – people take it home with them.

Is it really worth a job to be tortured by a bad boss? No. Life is too short.

And if you’re a boss who doesn’t know if you’re good or bad – it’s time to find out.

Courtesy Fort Worth Star Telegram.

A "Family Atmosphere" in the Workplace?

I generally get concerned when hearing about a business that cultivates a ‘family-like atmosphere’. Although noble in intent, the fact is that you are a business – regardless of your intentions or the size of your operation. I can list case after case where a business owner who wanted to create a ‘family’ atmosphere ended up getting burned by the eventual employee who becomes disgruntled at work.

And think of the phrase – “we’re like a family here”. Families have break-ups, problems and issues – and so do businesses.

So when I read this article in the Wall Street Journal, I had reservations.

Decagon Devices, a Pullman, Wash., scientific instruments and sensor maker with about 70 employees, won a Top Small Business Workplace award from the WSJ.

Decagon’s CEO, Tamsin Jolley, admits that she had to let some employees go. Although those employees fit in with the corporate culture, they simply weren’t doing the job.

It’s a short but interesting read. And what I particularly appreciate about Jolley’s comments is when she says

“…it has do to with the value we place on employees…I think it also facilitates communication and employee input across all areas of the company, because employees that know each other well are more willing to speak up and share their ideas with each other.”

THAT’S a good corporate culture. Not necessarily creating a ‘family’, but creating a workplace conducive to communication and productivity.

Common Sense

Most human resource issues can be focused into one area: practicing common sense.

Jessica De Vault, a columnist for the Fayetteville Observer, went to a corporate holiday party as a guest of an employee. She’d never been to such a party before. After attending, she was moved to write this column outlining ways to behave at a company party.

Ms. De Vault is not a human resources professional nor employment attorney (as far as I know). But her advice is absolutely spot on.

Most of the time, common sense (if actually practiced) is the best way to develop and follow guidelines for good professional behavior.

Wal-Mart Settles A Wage & Hour Lawsuit

Over $54 million to settle a lawsuit to workers in just the state of Minnesota.

What did Wal-Mart do this time?

Allegedly, the cut their workers’ rest breaks and didn’t prevent workers from working ‘off-the-clock’ in a 10-year period ending last month.

Employees read articles like this and see an opportunity to win the lottery. It’s especially prevalent in bad economic times. (In good economic times, it tends to be only disgruntled employees who look to cause trouble).

If Wal-Mart, with a huge staff of human resource professionals, can have this happen – it most certainly can happen to you.

Review your Wage & Hour practices as part of a comprehensive employment audit of your operations.


Wage & Hour Issues Engulfs Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio, owner and chef at the Craft restaurant empire, is the latest in a never-ending line of employers who have been sued for wage and hour issues.

This time, it’s misappropriating employee tips and withholding overtime pay that’s alleged in a lawsuit filed by a former employee.

I cannot more highly recommend that any restaurant owner immediately contact an employment attorney or qualified human resources consultant to review tipping practices

Craftsteak Restaurant at the MGM Grand Las Vegas

and all wage and hour issues. It’s happening to restaurants like Craft to Starbucks, and it can happen to you.

Who Should Produce Your Employee Handbook?

It’s that time of year again – when businesses need to update their employee handbook – or begin to create one from scratch.

There are 4 ways to do an employee handbook:

1. Have your attorney do it
2. Do it yourself
3. Borrow someone else’s (a truly bad idea);
4. Get a qualified consultant to do it.

In this new video release (just a minute long), I discuss the pros and cons of these four alternatives.

Porn in the Workplace

A new report in Newsweek shows than employees watching internet pornography at work has risen 23% in the past year.

The article quotes several thoughts on the rise:

  • Employees are looking for ‘an escape’;
  • The huge proliferation in “adult” websites;
  • A younger workforce that believes porn is ‘not that big a deal’;

Porn Star Valentina Vaughn

The last reason resonates with me – maybe porn is (or isn’t) that big a deal to individuals – but it certainly must be for employers.

There’s the lost productivity; increased chances of sexual harassment lawsuits; and the potential for viruses that infect many porn websites.

All businesses should have a written policy stating the internet and company-e-mail is for business use only. And discipline needs to occur immediately when violations are found.

Finally, consider having sexual harassment training at your business. The examples many of us have for the lost revenue to employers around the country should result in a sobering experience for everyone.

Newspaper Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

I mean, really. As if newspapers didn’t have enough problems these days, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune will now have to pay more than $300,000 to two women who accused the paper of sexual harassment.

The charges included vulgar comments, dirty jokes and sex-based statements, according to the EEOC (which filed the lawsuit).

The Star Tribune also agreed to:

  • Take steps toward preventing sexual harassment or retailiation against female employees in the mailroom;
  • Ensure it employs a mailroom supervisor or manager for every shift;
  • Employ a human resources representative responsible for mailroom functions, including monitoring and resolving any complaints; and to
  • Also will provide annual sexual harassment training.

Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to do all that before?

From the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal