There is no one business that is immune to employee lawsuits. Usually, these lawsuits turn into lengthy litigations that can become very costly to the businesses’ ownership. Because of the fast-paced environment in a restaurant, accidents and incidents are a real risk of occurring, and lawsuits are always a real possibility following one. Restaurant owners should be proactive in making efforts to reduce the risk of litigation and lawsuits brought about by current or former employees. Putting in the extra effort now can ultimately save the restaurant time, money and headaches. Here are a few ways that restaurant owners can reduce the risk of employee lawsuits against the business.
Audit Wages and Hours
In the current environment where worker’s wages are at the forefront of the conversation, it’s important for a restaurant to understand and ensure that their wage practices are following all legal standards. Each state has its own set of laws governing employment wages, and a violation of these laws can subject the employer to a variety of liabilities and expenses, ranging from unpaid wages or overtime being paid, paid out double what is owed in liquidated damages, as well as defense fees and possibly even the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees. Performing a wage and hours audit allows the restaurant to properly classify employees as exempt, nonexempt, or independent contractors, and can improve recordkeeping procedures and overtime pay practices.
Audit Human Resources
A small, family-owned restaurant may not place human resources high on their list of importance, but an oversight in this department can lead to multiple lawsuits that can be incredibly damaging to the reputation and profits of the restaurant. Having a proper and thorough Human Resources plan in place acts as the first line of defense against litigation brought on from an employee or former employee. Keep the employee handbook updated with policies regarding at-will employment, leave policies, equal employment opportunity information, complain procedures, performance reviews, compliance with the Affordable Care Act, Wage Theft Prevention Act notices, and other areas of your business that employees should be regularly aware of.
Provide Training to All Levels of Employees
As the restaurant workplace evolves, new areas of concern may arise within a business. Staff sizes have grown, managers are promoted from within, leaving them to supervise former coworkers, kitchen spaces have gotten smaller, and smartphones and social media allow just about anything to become breaking news a matter of minutes. Conducting regular training for your employees to discuss behaviors and mannerism while they are working is vital to ensuring that your staff is able to respond to any situation that may arise. Be sure to cover, in detail, the company’s harassment and discrimination policies, and how the complaint system works employees feel like they can speak out when something is wrong.
Make Restaurant-Specific Changes
In the fast-paced food service industry, there are countless liabilities and risks that a business faces each and every day that they are open for business, and even some on days when they are closed. Hazards such as swinging doors, hot stoves, and slippery floors carry a high risk of injury, and almost certainly an expensive and timely lawsuit to follow. Make yourself familiar with all Occupational Safety and Health Act codes and standards for the food service industry, as well as worker’s compensation laws that will protect your business if an employee is injured while on the job. Many restaurants rely on undocumented immigrants to staff their kitchen and be the backbone of their business, so familiarizing yourself with the ever changing immigration laws and statutes will help prevent any ICE issues down the road.
A restaurant owner who is able to remain one step ahead of the industry is usually the one who is rewarded with success. The same principal applies to dealing with your staff and anticipating legal risks that could be brought about by accidents or oversight within the restaurant. Having a proactive approach to minimizing legal risk and reducing liabilities can save a significant amount of time and money in the long run, allowing owners to get back to focusing on filling their tables night in and night out.