Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Customer Heaping Racist Abuse On Employees? Employer Must Stop It Or Risk Suit

The video of the guy heaping abuse on a restaurant's employees for speaking Spanish that went viral made me wonder: what did the restaurant do after this? A company's duty to keep the workplace free of national origin and immigration status harassment extends to protecting its employees from customer abuse and discrimination.

The most common case comes when a customer demands the company engage in discrimination by not assigning people of a particular race or national origin to them. An example would be a hospital patient refusing to be treated by people of a particular race.

But when a customer heaps discriminatory abuse on employees, it is the employer's duty to keep the workplace free of discrimination. The employer now knows about this customer's propensity to discriminate. It now must take prompt action to correct the situation.

But what can an employer do to stop a racist customer? Here are some actions that can be taken in this situation, and I hope the employer did at least some of this:

  • Remove the customer: In this case, the manager was one of those being subjected to abuse. Still, the manager would be within her rights to ask the customer to leave and call the police if he refused.
  • Ban the customer: Let's say management didn't find out about the situation until after the case. The customer could be banned from the restaurant. In the case of a company where the customer represents a large chunk of sales, it's tempting to let it pass. But the company could be liable for the customer's bad behavior.
  • Make sure the customer is accompanied at all times: If the customer is one that is too big to ban, then make sure someone in management is assigned to be with that person at all times they have contact with employees so they can shut down any bad behavior. Let the customer know that further bad behavior will result in banning. Of course, that may be an empty threat if the customer is a major one. Still, the company must stop the bad behavior, even if it means getting rid of an otherwise good customer.

Here's what the company absolutely cannot do:

  • Accede to customer wishes: The company cannot allow a customer to demand it engage in discrimination. The answer to the customer who wants only people of a particular race, national origin or religion to deal with them must be a resounding no.
  • Retaliate against the employee/victim: The employer must not deal with the problem by firing the employee, assigning them to a less-desirable position, or otherwise retaliating against them for being a victim of discrimination.
If a customer is engaging in this kind of behavior, report it to HR or someone in management. If your employer allows customers to engage in discrimination, sexual harassment, or discriminatory harassment, or retaliates against you for reporting it, contact an employee-side employment lawyer in your state to discuss your rights.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Senate Democrats Seek To Ban Noncompetes

It won't pass, but a group of Democrats in the U.S. Senate have proposed a bill that would ban noncompete agreements. The Workforce Mobility Act would prohibit the use of non-compete agreements and require employers to notify employees that these agreements are illegal. It would also allow the U.S. Department of Labor to enforce the ban with fines on the employer.

Here are the key provisions:
3. Presumption of illegality of covenants not to compete in employment contractsA covenant not to compete contained in an employment contract made between an employer and an employee is anticompetitive and violates the antitrust laws unless the employer establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that the covenant does not have an anticompetitive effect or that the pro-competitive effects outweigh the anticompetitive harm.
4. Private right of action
(a) In general
Any person who fails to comply with section 2 shall be liable to any individual in an amount equal to the sum of—
(1) any actual damages sustained by the individual as a result of the failure;
(2) such amount of punitive damages as the court may allow; and
(3) in the case of any successful action to enforce any liability under this subsection, the costs of the action together with reasonable attorney’s fees as determined by the court.
Any person may bring a civil action under subsection (a) in any appropriate district court of the United States.
5. Trade secretsNothing in this Act shall preclude an employer from entering into an agreement with an employee to not share any information (including after the employee is no longer employed by the employer) regarding the employer or the employment that is a trade secret as defined in section 1839 of title 18 of the United States Code.
It's an excellent bill, but it will take a blue wave in November to get it passed, and it will be vetoed if it does pass. Still, it's a start. I can dream, can't I?

Vote Best.