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Monday, Mar 20, 2023

US small business owners are great! … except for the thousands who aren’t

US small business owners are great! … except for the thousands who aren’t

From flouting Covid rules to fraud to racism to underpaying employees, US figures reveal a rogues’ gallery
We all know that our small business owners are the lifeblood of the US economy. There are approximately 30 million of us and we provide more than half of the jobs in this country. Everyone seems to love us. Politicians court us. Big brands tip their hats to us. Each year we celebrate our small business community with Small Business Week, Small Business Saturday, National Entrepreneurship Month and many other days honoring independent workers and minority business owners.

Yay for us! But you know what? As much as I’m an advocate and a voice for my fellow small business brethren, even I have to admit that not all small business owners are worthy of such praise. Some, in fact, are not worthy at all.

There are the restaurant owners – like these in California, Michigan and Oregon to name just a few – who blatantly and recklessly defied local Covid regulations and put their customers and employees at risk of dying from something other than the E coli in their food. Or the dentist in Wisconsin who broke his patients’ teeth in order to submit false insurance claims (wow!).

And let’s not forget the seemingly incalculable number of small business owners – like the operators of a tech company and a baking business in Massachusetts, the genius who ran a real estate firm in Pennsylvania, the serial fraudster from Delaware and the twin brothers who oversaw multiple businesses in California – who all defrauded the federal government by submitting fake claims for Covid relief funds because, hey, why should that money go to people who actually needed it, right?

Or how about the manufacturer in Georgia who was ordered to pay $250,000 after firing a disabled employee? Who does that? Or the regional water services company in Minnesota that was told to cough up $45,000 to an employee who was unfairly terminated due to the color of her skin? Who does that too?

Turns out a lot of business owners do that. And other bad things too.

If you don’t believe me then check out the tallies the government keeps. For example, less than a month ago the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released detailed breakdowns of more than 67,448 charges of workplace discrimination claims the agency received in just its past fiscal year. The agency said it secured $439.2m for the victims of discrimination in the private sector and state and local government workplaces through voluntary resolutions and litigation. The Department of Labor recently reported thousands of cases from 2021 where businesses in industries ranging from auto repairs to landscaping services underpaid or mistreated employees.

And it’s not just employees getting defrauded. For example, there are the independent entrepreneurs that make their money being social media influencers but who then dupe unwitting people into giving them free stuff in return for fake promises of a mention. Or the fraudulent freelancers operating on well-known online platforms that take money in return for doing no work at all. Or the independent contractors – like this one in Philadelphia – who allegedly collected payments for jobs such as bathroom renovations and home reconstruction in return for … spoiler alert: not doing the work. The Federal Trade Commission this year received more than 2.8m reports of consumer fraud against businesses ranging from deceptive credit repair services to those monsters that are robo-calling my mobile phone in the middle of the night.

So what have I learned from all this research? It’s that even though it rankles me when people accuse small businesses of seeking profits over their employees’ welfare, or paying too little, or acting offensively or defrauding their customers, I have to admit that in some cases ... these people may have a point. It’s sad. But I can’t deny it.

Of course, the vast majority of small business owners are good people who run good businesses and who care about their employees. But there are still more than just a few that, frankly, are not. So now when someone does accuse a business owner of doing something unseemly my kneejerk reaction isn’t to automatically dispute that person’s claim. Because maybe, just maybe, there’s some truth to that story.

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