Great Ideas for your Small Business: Work with a Great Labor Attorney
“You will be assaulted, abused, or sued by an employee; it’s only a question of when and how,” declares Robert Millman, a feisty labor attorney and partner at Littler Mendelson in Los Angeles. “Small business owners, in particular, are being hit very hard by employment laws, even if they only have five employees,” said Millman, who has been defending and protecting companies from their angry, derisive employees for more than twenty years.
Business owners eagerly buy liability insurance to protect themselves from fires and floods, yet they don’t spend time or money getting up to speed on employment laws.
“The most dangerous thing you face in your small business is not a fire or your truck driver wiping out a family of six,” he said. “The most dangerous thing is one of your employees suing you.” Although an employment liability insurance policy can prevent a lengthy legal battle from bankrupting your firm, you usually don’t get to choose your own lawyers to repre- sent you. And the policy may not cover all costs.
Millman said far too many small business owners get terrible legal advice and end up spending $500,000 on a case that should have settled for $10,000. Most of the time the bad advice comes from attorneys who want to run up their bills. Millman avoids this by charging clients a flat fee for handling some of the most challenging matters. His firm, with 350 people and offices around the country, has been a pioneer in training and education for employers.
He said the scariest issue is workplace violence because you are liable if someone hurts or kills someone else at your business. “There are so many telltale signs,” said Millman, adding that good employees rarely show up one day for work and go berserk. There is always a pattern of negative behavior and clear signals that employers must learn to spot. “A company is going to face severe liability if someone is sending out signals, and they don’t do something about it,” warned Millman.
His firm offers a variety of reports and materials on how to do employee background checks, write legal employment contracts, and conduct disciplinary investigations. They also publish national and state-by-state reference guides on employment law.
Littler Mendelson also created “Winning through Prevention,” a $99 board game made by the makers of Trivial Pursuit™, which helps employers learn how to avoid personnel land mines.