How much can employers inquire about employees or have a say in their actions on and off the job? The staff of a small business can easily grow into a family of sorts, but this doesn’t give the employer the right to act as the patriarch.
The trend, as evidenced by laws, court decisions and administrative rulings, seems to be toward less involvement of employers in the lives of their workers. Below are three indications of this trend.
Employees Obligations to Employers are Not Personal Ones
1. Inquiries About Personal and Family Matters
When I applied for my first full-time job in 1970, I was asked whether my husband would mind if I worked late and when I was planning on having children. Times sure have changed.
It is now, and has been for some time, a violation of anti-discrimination rules to ask job applicants about their personal situations, including marital status, number of children and childcare arrangements.
You can inquire about marital status and children only after a favorable hiring decision has been made, but only for purposes of payroll and employee benefits (e.g., withholding allowances; health coverage).
Similarly, inquiries about a worker’s age are barred. Doing so may violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act  (ADEA). And Executive Order 11478  bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.
2. Requests for Credit Checks
Are you interested in an employee’s or prospective employee’s credit history, especially if the person will be handling money for your company? You may not be able to obtain this information.
While federal law currently allows an employer to run a credit check on an employee or job applicant with prior permission from the person (as long as the employer complies with the Fair Credit Reporting Act), a number of states now bar this action.
Nearly a dozen states, including California and Illinois, generally bar or severely limit employers from obtaining credit histories, and many other states are considering similar legislation. Check with your state to see whether you can do a credit check if you believe it would aid in your employment decisions.
3. Restrictions on Social Media Activities
Courts and the NLRB are increasingly saying that employees’ First Amendment right of free speech doesn’t stop when they enter the workplace. This means employees who want to vent about the company may not be stifled in most cases.
The NLRB has guidelines on social media policies  in the workplace. Use these guidelines to craft your company’s social media policy. Employers can restrict speech that shares confidential information – about the company, its employees, or customers.
Pay attention to changes in employment laws that may impact the practices and policies you use at your company. You don’t want to find yourself out of step with the latest trends, a misstep that could result in costly litigation for you.
When in doubt, consult an employment law attorney.
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