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Going Green? Consider Labor Laws

Going Green? Consider Labor Laws

Restaurants that are going green are finding it is a practical and powerful way to increase profits by lowering energy costs, boosting employee morale and improving and differentiating themselves. But, despite the benefits green business practices may have on both the environment and your balance sheet, there are several important legal considerations in the area of labor and employment law that all restaurants need to evaluate prior to any "green" implementation. These issues include maintaining good business practices, ensuring adequate evaluation methods, and complying with rules and regulations governing federal funds for green project implementation.

One of the main issues that many business owners must address is ensuring that they do not ignore good business practices by becoming too captivated with the green concept. The failure to follow good business practices could lead to the ultimate demise of the business, and thus, the sudden termination of numerous disgruntled employees, increasing the likelihood of unwanted EEOC charges and lawsuits. Examples of good business practices that often get ignored are cost/benefit analyses, anticipated versus actual duration of implementation and added "red tape."

Going green in a restaurant can also often translate into a conscious effort to reduce paper. But from a human resources perspective, this can have significant consequences if not handled properly. Specifically, when EEOC charges and lawsuits are filed, these documents are the backbone to a solid defense. If a restaurant has carelessly converted hard-copy documents to an electronic format, documents that may be needed for a defense run the risk of being lost forever. As such, if a decision is made to reduce paper, it is vital to have proper backup procedures to ensure that needed documents are available now, or later.

An additional area of concern for restaurant owners and managers relates to the acceptance of state or federal funds and/or the entering into of state or federal contracts for "green" projects. But keep in mind that accepting such money and/or entering into such contracts might come with unexpected and costly strings. For example, if certain criteria are met, entities that enter into federal contracts and/or accept federal funds, whether for green projects or otherwise, can be required to comply with the reporting requirements of Executive Order 11246 (i.e., written affirmative action programs).

After reviewing the possible legal implications of implementing green business practices, it is imperative that business owners publicize and review the positive impact of going green as well. Businesses participating in “green business” practices are likely to see both an increase in employee productivity, as well as employee satisfaction at the workplace. By employing green measures in one’s business, employers are providing employees with yet another incentive to get the job done in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Additionally, employees that are satisfied at work and believe in the goals of the company — engaging in commerce in a productive, environmentally friendly way — are much less likely to institute costly and time-consuming EEOC charges or lawsuits.

— By Elliott M. Friedman and Douglas J. Miller, attorneys in the hospitality and restaurant group at the law firm of Elarbee Thompson. Visit for more information.