Employers' Checklist

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Employers face new hurdles each day. Here are “Top Ten” thoughts on current issues facing employers, and how to deal with them.

1. Get a social media policy. Do not even think about hacking into a worker’s Facebook account. And, if someone comes to you complaining about inappropriate content on a worker’s website, ask for a copy and respond accordingly.

2. Install a firewall when searching the Internet for employee candidates. Employers review social networking sites for information on potential hires and use that information in making hiring decisions. When you browse a social website, there is a strong risk you will be exposed to too much information. Imagine your search came up with the candidate’s Facebook page, which reveals the candidate’s religion, sexual orientation or a disability. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken the position that an employer who knows some fact about an individual that implicates a protected status may be presumed to have considered that fact in the employment decision. This could result in a discrimination lawsuit. So, have a plan on who conducts your Internet searches and how the online information is used. Have someone other than the person making the hiring decision perform the Internet search and screen results so that only relevant information is considered.

3. Prevent wage/hour lawsuits. The Department of Labor handled 32,000 wage and hour complaints last year, up 33 percent from 2009. There is also an increased focus on independent contractor misclassifications. Review your independent contractor relationships before the government does.

4. Get the new Family Medical Leave Act poster. The government has form WH380/381. Put these up and remove the old ones.

5. The NLRB and non-union businesses. Even if you are a non-union shop, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will sue you over company policies banning employees from talking about pay or benefits—a “protected concerted activity.”

6. Performance reviews: Grade inflation hurts. Accurate performance reviews will “save your bacon” in a lawsuit, but unduly rosy reviews of average workers can hurt. Have Human Resources review performance reviews.

7. Record-keeping and “litigation holds.” If you think litigation is coming, make sure all standard document destruction policies are suspended. Lost or “unsaved” documents can lead to a presumption against you. Work with your IT department to construct a process to make sure documents are preserved.

8. What to do with Charlie Sheen. We all have seen the implosion of Charlie Sheen. What if you had an employee who engaged in poor or illegal behavior that could embarrass your organization? How should you deal with it? First, work on damage control. Do not spend lots of effort protecting the bad employee, because this links you to the employee’s bad acts. Second, eliminate the employee’s visibility and access to the company’s top people. Consider a paid leave with clear rules about acceptable behavior, setting out clear consequences for violation of the rules. Third, assess the chances for rehabilitating the employee’s reputation and weigh the value of the employee with the effort required to rehabilitate him or her. In the end, if you are working harder at the employee’s success than the success of the company, it might be time to cut and run.

9. Watch out for retaliation. Retaliation cases are the most common type of lawsuit now, and the most expensive. “Getting even” will cost you. Consider independent internal reviews of employment decisions affecting complaining employees.

10. Install a conflict resolution plan. Companies are avoiding lawsuits by having an established conflict resolution plan that gives the employee an opportunity to vent. Consider establishing one in your workplace.

D. Michael Reilly, a shareholder at Lane Powell and director of the firm’s Labor and Employment and Employee Benefits Practice Group, represents small and large employers in all facets of employment-related issues and litigation. He can be reached at reillym@lanepowell.com or 206.223.7051.

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Legal Briefs: Navigating Environmental Regulations

Legal Briefs: Navigating Environmental Regulations

Tips for staying in compliance.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
Our state’s ever-changing regulatory environment makes it hard to stay on the right side of the law. Here are some simple steps to help keep your business in compliance:
 
1. Ignorance Is Not Bliss. Take time to research which environmental regulations apply to your operations. Consider all relevant media — air, water and land. For example:
 
• Does your facility emit air pollutants? Consult with the local air pollution control agency.
• Are you planning construction near a shoreline or wetland? Consult with the Washington Department of Ecology’s Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program.
• Do your operations require a stormwater permit? Consult with the Washington Department of Ecology’s Water Quality Program. 
 
As a starting point, review the Regulatory Handbook prepared by the Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance (oria.wa.gov). When in doubt, it is best to consult experienced environmental counsel to determine which regulations apply. Once you have this information, you can develop the appropriate compliance programs.
 
2. Uncover Your Property’s History. Under the Model Toxics Control Act, RCW 70.105D, a business that owned or operated a facility where hazardous substances have come to be located may be liable for cleaning up the property. To manage this risk, it is essential to conduct due diligence before entering into a lease or buying a commercial or industrial property. A reputable consulting firm can assist. If any notable conditions arise, a subsurface investigation may be warranted. Frequently, businesses negotiate environmental indemnity agreements to address this kind of liability, but it is important to do so before you lease or buy, not after.
 
3. Identify Your Waste Streams. Every business generates waste, whether from an office building or a manufacturing facility. Be sure to review your local rules, since some jurisdictions mandate recycling. It is also critical to determine whether a waste is “dangerous” under WAC 173-303. This is more common than you think. Most businesses generate some type of dangerous waste, including adhesives, aerosol cans, paints, solvents, fertilizers and cleaners. You can start by taking a look at the materials you use and the wastes that remain. If you have products labeled “DANGER,” “FLAMMABLE,” “WARNING” or “POISON,” they may become a dangerous waste if discarded or mixed with other wastes. Electronic waste, such as batteries, mercury-containing equipment and light bulbs, are also regulated. If used oil, batteries and other wastes are recycled, they may be partially or fully exempt from the regulations.
 
4. Recordkeeping Is Essential. You should live by the mantra: “If you don’t write it down, it never happened.” The key to compliance is meticulous recordkeeping. Keeping records up to date, organized and readily available for an inspector is critical. Create easy-to-use logs to track internal inspections, monitoring programs and the use of best management practices.  
 
5. Violation Issued. Now What? If you get a notice of violation from an agency or a citizens’ suit notice, immediately take note of the deadlines to respond and any procedures for contesting or appeal. Contact a lawyer to discuss your rights, whether there may be other parties at fault and settlement options. Once you have established the deadlines and determined the best course of action, evaluate what circumstances led to the violation. Plan a debriefing session with your employees to discuss how to prevent future violations. Establish what changes can be implemented to ensure compliance, which may involve enhanced training requirements or the development of an internal auditing program. Use this as a learning opportunity for your business.
MICHAEL A. NESTEROFF is a member of Lane Powell’s Construction and Environmental Practice Group and has handled numerous environmental claims and litigations. Reach him at 206.223.6242 or nesteroffm@lanepowell.com, or follow him on Twitter @MikeNesteroff. 
JULIE S. NICOLL is a member of Lane Powell’s Construction and Environmental Practice Group and has extensive experience advising clients on environmental compliance matters. Reach her at 206.223.7118 or nicollj@lanepowell.com.