Success is a journey: Bringing on a crew mate
February 12, 2017
We are continuing our "operating a business is a journey" series. At some point after you've started your business voyage, you may find that you are unable to man the ship alone. There will naturally come a time to bring on a crew – that is, you will need employees to help run the day-to-day operations of your business. Before taking on a new crewmate, you should consider a few things — after all, bringing on a buccaneer can mean the difference between a successful journey or a sunken ship.
Just like running a ship has substantial risks, running a business with employees can bring different risks than when you were operating by yourself. A business can be found liable for the acts of its employees, just like the captain of a ship is responsible for the acts of his or her crew. Thus, if a crewmate is called a "yellow bellied son of a biscuit eater" by a bystander at port and the crewmate takes revenge by "accidentally" igniting one the ship's cannons in the direction of the bystander, if the crewmate was within the scope of his employment (on the job), the captain will be liable for the resulting damage that ensues.
But liability stops if that crewmate was not acting within the scope of his employment. If that same crewmate is called a "lilly-livered scurvy dog" after work at the pub and then takes matters into his own hands, the captain would not be liable. This is because the captain's/employer's legal liability stops where his business and employment relationship stops.
So how do you, as a business owner, protect yourself from crew members who behave badly on the job?
First, it is vital to confine the scope of the employment relationship to the specific duties of your business operation. The scope of employment can be limited and defined through a well-drafted employee manual or operations manual. A poorly drafted manual or employment contract could expose you, as an employer, to as much liability as if you did not have one in the first place. Therefore, it is key to consult with competent legal counsel in drafting an employee manual or operations manual.
Second, it is vital to fully review the candidate's qualifications, history, and knowledge. However, questions about a candidate's age, sex, sexual orientation, health, family plans, religion, nationality or arrest record are protected by employment laws to prevent unlawful discrimination. Even questions regarding previous drug and alcohol abuse should not be asked because the Americans With Disabilities Act protects against discrimination of recovering addicts. This makes it hard to vet a candidate in an interview. Focus on work history, testing knowledge of the type of job you are hiring for and other substantive knowledge. It is also wise to have a written agenda of interview questions to ensure you do not violate anti-discrimination laws.
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Third, it is vital to consult outside resources to ensure that the candidate is qualified. Check not only the candidate's references, but also their work history, to verify they have accurately reported information on their application. A business owner may also order a background check online, which may reveal concerns including drug convictions, credit problems or issues any captain would want to review before entrusting their ship and reputation to a new buccaneer.
If you are ready to bring on crew to help you steer your business, then celebrate! Success is a journey, and it often requires the help of many crew members. These considerations can help keep your operation afloat in turbulent waters and safely continue your journey toward success.
Cassandra Jones is an elder law and family law attorney in Gardnerville. She can be reached at 782-0040.