As I was teaching my HR certification class on Saturday we talked about the issue of how HR is to respond to an employee revealing information about actions that could be damaging to the company, but then asking HR to keep it confidential. Of course, HR cannot do that. They have an obligation to investigate. Having had that conversation on Saturday, last night I read Ten Simple Steps to Avoid Employment Lawsuits by Adam Gates of Baker Donaldson. I thought his post was excellent advice, so I am giving credit where credit is due.
I will not go into as much detail as did Gates, to get that you need to click the link above and read the original. I will add my own commentary.
Step One: Make it easier for people to report complaints.
Gates points out that a company needs multiple ways to report what they are experiencing or seeing. The chain of command is no longer acceptable, as I wrote in 2010 in When HR Is Harassed: What Then? and in A Follow up to Who do you report harassment to if the harasser is the CEO? The lesson is, you will be much better off if you have an easy process to report harassment, discrimination, or other wrongdoing.
Step Two: Timeliness is Next to Godliness.
Gates’ message is that you need to act immediately when you find out about something that needs to be investigated. He says “The company’s response will obviously depend on the problem, but understand that the response – or lack thereof – will be scrutinized.” You will find an example of how that can get a company in trouble in A story of sexual harassment and bad HR.
Step Three: Document Performance Deficiencies.
Everyone in HR knows the mantra “document, document, document. Yet, it is amazing how often it does not get done. Bad performance gets overlooked until a point is reached that the supervisor can no longer abide and then the employee gets terminated. That is bad practice. As Gates says “…make sure the employee you just fired for performance issues has already been written up twice for poor performance.”
Step Four: Don’t Make Exceptions.
Gates says “A big part of being perceived as a fair employer is consistent application of the rules. When you make an exception for one employee, you alienate the others.” I do take an exception to Gates’ blanket statement on exceptions. Not every situation is the same, though it may be perceived that way. You need to understand the differences. Terminating an employee with a poor attendance record is ok if the employee is a laggard, it is not ok if those attendance problems are related to either an ADA or FMLA situation. Under the “make no exceptions” policy you might get in a great deal of trouble. Similar situations require similar responses but understand the circumstances.
Step Five: Train Your Front Line.
I am in total agreement with Gates on this one. Train your frontline managers. Spend some money to save some money. A $2000 training course is much more cost effective than a $200,000 settlement.
Step Six: Create Specialists.
I like this one a lot if you have the staff to handle it. Not all HR departments have extra people. I deal with a lot of HR departments of one. If you have the people, train someone to handle Workers’ Comp or ADA or FMLA situations. Train someone to be the eyes and ears on harassment situations, but if you don’t have the staff, then seek and get to know consultants that can help you.
Step Seven: Make Your Handbook a Tool, Not a Stumbling Block.
Yep, believe it or not, there is value to that employee handbook. Gates says “…often handbooks include too many policies or complicated policies with unnecessary deadlines and commitments that trip companies up. Simplify your handbook. Keep it up-to-date.” It is your best communication tool. Use it effectively.
Step Eight: Terminate Slowly.
I disagree with Gates’ terminology here. I see far too many companies interpreting this as “take forever” before you let someone go. Gates means, and this is what I agree with, BE CAREFUL in your terminations. No employee should ever be terminated on the spot or by one manager. Have the supervisor or manager suspend the employee and then have that termination reviewed by someone with HR training. Change the action if the facts don’t fit.
Step Nine: Consider severance agreements.
Money paid for agreements not to sue can be cost-effective. So they are good considerations. You may want to talk to your lawyer first.
Step Ten: Operate by the Golden Rule.
I agree with Gates here too. Would you like to have happen to you what you are about to do to someone? Just this may save you some heartache.
These are 10 great steps to keep in mind deal with employees in the workplace. If you would like to read Gates’ original article then click here.