July 17, 2012

Could Your Glass Business Become Penn State?

By Paul Bieber

There are just 76 people in the United States who don’t know what is going on at Penn State. But I have learned that most of those 76 read my blog, so here is a quick summary: Last year a person named Jerry Sandusky was arrested for alleged sexual improprieties with very young boys. He was an assistant football coach for the head football coach, Joe Paterno. Now, Joe Paterno is the closest thing to a Saint that Pennsylvania has seen since Benjamin Franklin; and deservedly true. Joe denied any direct knowledge as did other university officials. Sandusky was convicted and will probably be nervous in the prison showers for the rest of his life. Paterno passed away due to cancer. Enter Louis Freeh, a former judge and director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He was hired by the Trustees of Penn State to get all the information about the crimes. His report, which came out last week, says that Paterno and other senior management types at the university knew about the alleged crimes and did nothing to stop them.

OK, enough for the history lesson. What does this mean to you, the owner or manager of a glass business?

You have a great employee; let’s call him Jerry. Jerry has been with you for years and you have never had a problem. Unknown to you, three years before you hired him, he was convicted of child endangerment, received a suspended sentence and a two-year probation. Last week, while at a customer’s home installing mirrors, Jerry used his cell phone to take a picture of the customer’s nine-year-old daughter in the bathtub, and was seen by the mother who called the police, who then arrested Jerry. What impact does this have on you?

Plenty. You will be sued; and you’ll probably lose. You give up your business, your home and are forced to move out-of-state. Why? Because your company is responsible for all of your employees actions while on the job. It is no different than an employee having three beers at lunch and then getting into an accident. You are liable. The only difference is that most companies have auto insurance, but many don’t have insurance protecting them from Jerry’s sexual activities. You argue with your lawyer and ask how you could be responsible; you can’t control every minute of every day of every employee. Save your time … you bought the farm with this one. You are liable and can be sued big-time.

It is so important to do thorough background checks on every employee, especially those that represent you away from the workplace. Look at their job applications or resumes and check all references. Make sure to account for any time not working. Sure, Jerry is just going to say he was out of work for six months and was looking for a job. How do you verify that? Start with his previous job. Odds are they are not going to tell you that they fired him for taking obscene pictures. They will give you name, rank and serial number only. There are services on the web that will do employee background checks. These run from $50 to $100, depending on the state you are in and the depth of the report you are asking for. You are going to spend thousands of dollars training this employee, plus the salary. Invest another $100 to see the full story.

I mentioned insurance above. If you have coverage for this don’t think you are on easy street. All that will do is handle your legal costs and pay the settlement up to the limits of your policy. The morning after the no-no happens, the headlines are naming you and showing a picture of your storefront. Insurance won’t cover the embarrassment and the negative publicity.

Check out your applicants before you hire. Yes, it is another expense and requires time and effort. The odds of you hiring Jack the Ripper are pretty slim. Is it worth it? If you are in the part of our industry that works in client homes, yes, it is.