Government overreach in firing decisions won’t stop with big companies

Owning your own business is the ultimate American dream. That aspiration helped make Shark Tank a television sensation, and over the years countless success stories of women and men who risked it all to create globally-recognized brands have been a source of great encouragement. 

America’s entrepreneurial success story would not have happened if governments imposed vast restrictions on business operations — that is, telling small business owners when they could work, how they could work, or who they could work with.   

Over the years, small business advocates have had to push back on some pretty intrusive policies. And a recent occurrence of government overreach should have small business owners concerned about whether a similar incident could happen to them. 

The latest controversy began a week or so ago, when a video of an Amazon employee verbally harassing another employee went viral. The video was all the more newsworthy because it was tied up in a broader, and very public, unionizing effort at the company. The video is apparently so disturbing that Democrats on the House Committee on Education and Labor would not let it be played during a hearing.  

As most business owners would do given it is in the best interest of workplace harmony and safety, Amazon terminated the verbally offensive employee. But the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) stepped in and Amazon was ordered to reinstate the employee. 

There is plenty of space to discuss fair approaches to protesting and union organizing at companies large and small, but small business owners know abusive language when they hear it. If ignored or dismissed, such harsh language directed toward a female employee by a male employee can have a negative effect in the workplace, and fuel other legal issues.   

Creating a safe workplace and culture for all employees is paramount — whether you are one of the world’s largest companies or a mom-and-pop store on Main Street. Employers have an obligation to their employees and customers regarding safety and health. Therefore, it is inappropriate for the NLRB to order reinstatement.  

Small businesses may not be exempt from this kind of government interference. In an already challenging marketplace — the COVID infection upswing, inflation, supply chain disruptions, the possibility of a recession, and workforce shortages — will small business owners have to worry about something as basic as firing a verbally abusive employee?  

That’s a dangerous path to try and navigate, and one completely antithetical to the reason why people choose to be entrepreneurs in the first place.  

A survey published by the Endurance International Group found that “seven in ten (68 percent) small business owners stated that they chose to own a small business because it gives them the independence to pursue their passion” while “almost half (43 percent) said that the best part of small business ownership is the freedom and flexibility it gives them.” 

In another survey of new entrepreneurs by Small Business and Entrepreneurs Council, 63 percent said they launched because they wanted “to be their own boss” and 46 percent said it would provide “more flexibility and control of their time.” 

Small business owners want to be their own bosses. They want to maintain their independence to build their businesses, and they know it is in their best interest to keep their employees free from harassment. They certainly understand the need for reasonable regulation but know when the government crosses the line to unreasonable.  

We all have a favorite local business — the coffee shop, arts and crafts store, or maybe even our IT problem-solver at the office. And let’s not forget, small businesses play an essential role in the American economy, accounting for 48 percent of jobs and 43.5 percent of the GDP. Democrats and Republicans consistently agree that in order to keep America’s economy vibrant we need many entrepreneurs continually taking the leap to start their own businesses.  

The federal government made an error in forcing the rehiring of an employee who verbally insulted another with harsh and derogatory language. That decision must be changed, and not allowed to become precedent, to ensure that our nation’s small business owners have one less matter to worry about.   

Karen Kerrigan is president and chief executive officer of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. Follow her @KarenKerrigan.