Labor Law Lessons in the Age of the Internet

We’ve seen it so many times by now, it’s impossible to count: Short video clips of a person’s improper private behavior making waves online, causing the public to clamor for that person’s professional punishment. We saw it with Permit Patty and BBQBecky — we even saw it with the Covington Catholic boys, who were chastised by their bishop and threatened with expulsion. Admittedly, most of the people caught in these videos are at least somewhat worthy of the public backlash — but are their employers equally deserving?

In the Digital Age, employees’ behavior is beginning to reflect on their employers, even when inappropriate actions occur off the clock. While there is little you, as an employer, can do to completely eliminate the risk of social media frenzy due to employee conduct, there are labor law lessons you should apply to reduce the likelihood of suffering a similar crisis.

It’s More Important Than Ever That You Are Completely Compliant

Right now, it might seem like your business can fly under the radar and avoid audits for things like labor law posters and hiring practices, but if any one of your employees — even members of the cleaning service who tend to your office after hours — gets caught misbehaving and a public outcry ensues, your business will be scrutinized under a powerful microscope.

When the public discovers that not only is your employee sexist/racist/homophobic or some other sin but also your business is non-compliant with important regulations, pandemonium will ensue. Non-compliance can result in lawsuits against your company as well as fines levied by the local, state or federal governments. At worst, your business could be shut down due to your non-adherence to critical labor regulations.

That’s why it’s of utmost importance that your business become compliant with all applicable labor and employment law ASAP. You can use a third-party HR service, like a PEO, to help you develop and maintain labor law compliance if you aren’t certain what laws and regulations affect your business.

You Should Develop a Strong Corporate Culture to Combat Poor Behavior

“Corporate culture” isn’t just an empty buzzword; it is a way to define your brand and help ensure your employees exhibit certain values on and off the clock — values like kindness, equality, sensitivity and deference. There are dozens of ways to establish a strong corporate culture, to include modifying hiring practices, administering trainings and teambuilding events and changing your own behavior and communication styles. What’s important is that your culture makes taboo any behaviors that might call down public ire.

Even with a strong corporate culture, it is important that you stress to employees that they are always ambassadors of your brand. That means what happens before and after work hours will affect their employment, especially if what happens puts their name in headlines or on an infamous Twitter account. You should create policies and processes that go into immediate effect during a public relations event — and you should educate all employees about them, so they understand the consequences of their actions.

Leaders Need to Set Expectations With Regards to Conduct

Business leaders set the tone for the rest of the workforce. A leader who is professional, respectful and hardworking is more likely to attract and retain a team of likeminded employees. Likewise, a leader who is unruly, impertinent and indolent will have the same effect. Thus, it is important that you keep careful watch over your organization’s leadership to ensure that your employees demonstrate the proper behavior inside and outside cubicle walls.

The best way to control your leaders — and ensure they adhere to the corporate culture that guides your employees’ behavior — is to promote from within. This way, you have some experience with your potential leaders, which means you will be better equipped to predict how they will act in positions of power. Then, the leaders you’ve groomed can solidify your corporate culture and discourage improper behavior, so your business will stay safe.

It’s Not Wise to Rush to Judgement; Investigate and Apply Logic, First

Public pressure can be incredibly strong, but you shouldn’t cave to the public’s demands without first evaluating the situation. If there is evidence of an employee misbehaving on the clock, it behooves you to throw a book of pink slips at them. However, if there isn’t much data and the alleged event happened outside company hours, you should put time and effort into investigating before you act. Ultimately, you may need to ask the employee to resign, but by considering the facts and your options first, you will retain the trust and support of the rest of your workforce.

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