Let’s face it — the internet is now filled with click-bait — that is, headlines written so you will click on it, just like the one above. Buzzfeed was a master at it with such gems as:
This Girl Matched On Tinder With An Olympic Athlete And Here’s What Happened Next
20 Reasons Why Cheez-Its Are Everything That Is Right In The World
So how would you write such headlines as employment lawyers? Well, Suzanne Lucas (a/k/a Evil Hr Lady) came up with something similar to the above suggestion above after I provided a “tip” on Twitter for employers.
And what is that tip?
Well, before I get to that, let’s do yet another click-worthy list — here are three things that employee-side counsel don’t want you to know but you really should:
- Don’t misclassify employees as exempt when they’re really not exempt from overtime. This is simple and straightforward and yet it is extremely costly when you don’t follow this rule.
- There is no such thing as a “1099 employee”. People are either employees (in which case they get a W-2 form) or independent contractors (in which case they get a 1099 form). They are not both.
- Don’t offer severance to an employee without considering offering the employee a release to sign in exchange for the severance (at least in most cases). Otherwise, you are potentially giving money to the employee to pay a lawyer who can then sue you.
Maybe you know these tips. Maybe you are already paying people overtime (if eligible) or using independent contractors judiciously.
But my guess is that there are some employers that should adopt the following tip:
Don’t sleep with your co-workers. Don’t sleep with your subordinates. And above all else, don’t lie about it.
I know that would seem straightforward. I know it seems perhaps too obvious. (Or perhaps it seems unromantic.)
But then comes word about Jeff Zucker’s resignation from CNN for having a romantic relationship with a senior executive — and lying about it.
You might think that situation is unusual but it’s not anymore. People in senior leadership positions (and, let’s face it, people who are overwhelmingly male) continue to think that the rules they impose on their workplaces don’t apply to them.
Another example? There’s the highly publicized case of Steve Easterbrook, the one-time CEO of McDonalds, who had to pay back $105 million in equity grants to the company for…you guessed it…sleeping with employees and lying about it.
McDonald’s fired Easterbrook in late 2019 after he acknowledged exchanging videos and text messages in a non-physical, consensual relationship with an employee. At the time of his firing, Easterbrook told the company there were no other similar instances and an inspection of his cell phone seemed to back that up. McDonald’s board approved a separation agreement “without cause” that allowed Easterbrook to keep tens of millions in stock-based benefits and other compensation.
Then, in July 2020, the company received an anonymous tip from an employee claiming that Easterbrook had engaged in a sexual relationship with another employee. After an investigation, McDonald’s confirmed that relationship as well as two other physical, sexual relationships with employees in the year before it fired its top executive. The company said Easterbrook had removed evidence of those relationships from his phone.
Don’t get me wrong. With Valentine’s Day coming up, sometimes co-worker relationships work. But many times they don’t. And that leads to significant exposure for executives and the company. (See my post about office romances here.)
Just follow the tip above and you avoid at least one major risk factor for a possible lawsuit. And don’t worry about employment lawyers like myself; we’re plenty busy as it is.