Labor laws exist to protect employees and prevent businesses from taking advantage of their labor. Certain Federal laws exist to keep the public safe from false claims and scams. State and local laws exist to keep communities in order. Your business might break the law at some point, even unknowingly. You need to be prepared.
The law is complex and intricate with details nearly impossible for all business owners to memorize. No matter how much time you spend learning and memorizing statutes, your best effort may not be enough to keep you out of trouble. Mistakes happen, and sometimes they cost more than money.
More laws means more investigations
Your business is always at risk of being targeted with complaints by workers and customers. Unless an injury is involved, customer complaints are generally easier to handle than complaints filed by employees. Businesses have difficulty keeping up with new labor laws, and end up unintentionally violating those laws. Employees are quick to file complaints the day the law goes into effect, often without attempting to have a conversation with their employer.
For example, in 2015, the city of Seattle, WA passed a law requiring employers to offer paid sick leave to employees and increased the minimum wage. Other worker protections were passed, too. The number of complaints soared after these laws were passed.
The Office of Labor Standards has been working hard to investigate each claim, but due to the rising number of claims, it’s taking much longer than it used to. For instance, in 2015, the average claim was investigated in 127 days. In 2017, after more laws were passed, it took an average of 334 days.
Be aware that you could be investigated without any warning.
Be prepared to face charges pursued by the state
If a crime has been committed, even if the victim doesn’t want to press charges, the state can still choose to pursue charges.
For example, in 2015, a 16-year-old boy jumped on the hood of his friend’s Jeep to make her laugh. The car was still moving, and the boy fell, hit his head, and was partially run over. He suffered severe head injuries and two punctured lungs. He was on life support for a day before his parents decided to pull the plug. His parents didn’t want to press charges against the driver, but the authorities did.
Be prepared to hire a lawyer before you get sued
You don’t need to keep a lawyer in your back pocket, but you should be ready to call one on a moment’s notice. If you don’t have a lawyer, find local attorneys who practice specific areas of law that might affect your business. Make a list of contacts organized by what they practice and make that list accessible. Don’t wait until something happens. If you are in an emotionally charged situation in the future, you won’t be able to think as clearly and rationally as you can when you’re in a neutral state of mind.
Be prepared to negotiate a settlement
Most cases settle out of court because the parties involved want the quickest resolution. During settlement discussions, lawyers from both sides get together to come to an agreement for fair compensation. This is true across a variety of cases including labor law violations, personal injury claims, and class action lawsuits. You’ll be asked to accept or reject a settlement offer. Don’t be too picky, though. If you hold out for more than what’s fair, the case could go to trial and become more complicated.
Some claimants will attempt a settlement negotiation with your insurance company first. Legal experts will tell you that insurers often deny liability in personal injury cases and refuse to settle. Insurance companies are for-profit corporations and are protecting their profits. A claimant is more likely to be picky with settlements offered by an insurance company when they know they can hire a lawyer and possibly get more compensation.
Be prepared to pay for damages
A settlement doesn’t let you off the hook financially, but it significantly mitigates the risk of a higher judgment. Judges sometimes impose hefty fines and penalties on businesses to teach them a lesson if what they’ve done is out of line.
Don’t be consumed with winning. Be happy if your case settles out of court. Trials are expensive and time-consuming, and can damage your reputation even when you win.