As the details come out about tragedies like the Ohio high school shooting or February’s tragic incident in Washington, DC, where an employee shot and killed his supervisor, I am reminded that employers are expected to provide as safe an environment as is reasonably possible. The government, whether the State Human Rights Commission or the federal Department of Labor, has set standards that basically say, “You cannot do too much to protect employees.”
You can do too little and there will be serious financial consequences, but you cannot do too much to protect your employees. OSHA and Worker’s Compensation were set up to protect employees with regard to physical injuries. The Civil Rights Act of 64 has a serious focus on sexual harassment. The Fair Labor Standards Act focuses on protection relating to payroll matters. All of these, and more, exist to hold employers accountable to protect workers.
What the average small business employer doesn’t realize is that the government has the philosophy that if employers cannot provide for the safety of their employees, they should not be employers.
The fines are telling. For example, in sexual harassment instances if there is an allegation and that allegation is brought to the attention of the State Human Rights Commission, they will perform an investigation. If that investigation substantiates (proves the allegation to be correct), they can fine the employer organization up to 25 percent of the company’s NET WORTH! That’s right—up to 25 percent of the net worth of the organization.
Then there is the restitution or remedy to the victim, followed by the Right to Sue letter they issue to the victim, and then the court and attorney costs. Can you say bankrupt? These costs can easily bankrupt the typical small business and THAT’S THE OBJECTIVE. The government’s perspective is that if you cannot provide a safe environment, that is an environment free from sexual harassment, you shouldn’t be in business.
The fines and subsequent costs for other violations of the various laws and rules are not quite so fatal to the business but are designed to make it clear that employers better not mess with their employees. Employers should create a safe environment for their employees—period.