6 Workplace Regulations – What Business
Owners Must Know
All employers, whether private, federal or state organizations, must follow employment and labor laws in the workplace. As such, it is imperative that business owners understand the numerous state and federal laws and regulations when dealing with employees. Failure to do so can be costly and detrimental to the success of the business. The following highlights several important employment related activities.
#1 - Employment At Will- Washington State is an employment-at-will state. That means that an employee may resign at any time and an employer may let an employee go at any time with or without cause. There are, however, several exceptions to this policy. An employer may not discharge an employee if doing so would violate public policy. Another exception is the implied covenant of good faith, meaning that an employer cannot discharge an employee if doing so is made in bad faith or motivated by malice. Employers are not allowed to discriminate in their hiring and firing practices under the guise of employment-at-will.
#2 - American with Disabilities Act (ADA)– The ADA prohibits employment discrimination of any kind against qualified individuals with physical or mental disabilities. It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for the qualified employee as long as those accommodations do not place undue hardship on the employer.
#3 - Employee Manual- Employment manuals are often designed to give employees general information regarding the business daily operations. However, employers may often be surprised to learn that the manual has created a contract with the employee which may be breached upon the discharge of an employee. Manuals may contain a “notice” provision that requires employees to receive information regarding any job discrepancy before any discharge, or it may contain a graduated set of offenses before an employee may be discharged. Any of these may create a situation where the employee can only be let go for cause and may negate the at-will discharge ability of the employer.
#4 - Dress Code– There is no state or federal law regarding employer dress codes. As such, employers may set any dress code so long as it does not discriminate against any employee on the basis of gender, race, religion or disability under Title VII. Employer dress codes are generally enforceable as long as they are applied consistently, are based on legitimate workplace reasons, and relate to essential job functions.
#5 - Employees with Contracts– Discharging an employee with an employment contract may be severely limited. The presence of a written contract is obvious. However, implied contract may be just as troublesome. Employers must take care when promising some kind of employment security or promotion in return for good performance. Employment contracts typically limit employee discharge to good cause which includes reasons including but not limited to insubordination, failure to follow instructions, low productivity, habitual absenteeism, threats, dishonesty or criminal activity.
#6 - Release– Employers should always require exiting employees to sign a release form. This release, whether the employee is simply laid off or fired, should release the employee of any liability from various anti-discrimination claims an employee may use to sue the employer.
Businesses are also likely to have policies and procedures to safeguard employee safety and health as well as a risk management department that oversees employee education and training in safety matters. We hope you find this information helpful and would be happy to discuss any of the above at your convenience.
Robert O. Sailer
Pacific NorthWest Law Group
Telephone: (425-867-0512) www.pnwlg.com