With the holiday season and new year upon us, we find ourselves juxtaposed between the looming realities of the end-of-year deadlines and the tantalizing optimism about the year to come. We scramble to prioritize what is truly important and what can be deferred to next year. We visualize holiday time without a laptop tethered to our sides.
Imagine your manager walking into to your internal planning session and asking, “When is a good time for us to get sued?” Of course, the answer is never. And you already know that you need to make efforts to reduce your litigation risk. But, then again, you’re thinking that effort is going to cost time and money. Not to mention how it will distract you from your 2016 Key Performance Indicators.
Then imagine this distraction. An employee in haste gets wrongfully terminated by a new manager due to a lack of training or maybe poor HR oversight. The first blow is the damage to staff morale and management focus that comes from a termination under these circumstances. The second hit comes when the employee engages an attorney. For the next six months you are working with IT (you hate IT) to produce electronic discovery including three years worth of emails from the Board, managers and co-workers. (Yikes! Do I tell them that the Victoria Secret purchase was personal or professional?) And that’s just the beginning of the litigation “distraction” you’ve found yourself in.
Here are four quick ways to immediately start reducing your employee tort risk.
A comprehensive evaluation by an employment law professional is the most prudent way to assess your current risk and develop the roadmap that will make your company legally compliant. But “ain’t nobody got time for that” this time of year, so let’s get started on the emergency, pre-event triage.
1. Employment Law 101. Do you know the legal limitations and protections when hiring? Firing? Reprimanding? Do you know what “Title VII” means? Do you know the legal implications of going from 14 to 15 employees? (Hint: additional Federal and state laws now become applicable to your company). Do you know the legal implications of going from 49 to 50 employees? (Yep, now the Feds bring some additional employment love to the organization.) Have you stayed on top of the changes in employment law that will take effect 2016?
2. Employee Manual. Got one? Know where it is? When was the last time it was updated? Has every employee got one? Can you prove they have received it and understand it?
3. Policies. Of course, they are supposed to be in the Employee Manual, but are they? Do you have policies that are not in the Employee Manual? Are there policies in conflict? Do you have policies that come with a “wink and a nod” that nobody pays attention to, not even senior management?
4. Training. How many things does your company do well without training? It’s OK, you are not alone. Understanding the policies themselves may not be enough, particularly when emotions run high. Role-playing for certain volatile or unusual employee situations may help preparedness when actual events present themselves. Showing your employees that management is committed to standards of fairness and positive employee relations through training programs, established communication channels and escalation protocols can help create a culture that is less conducive to employee issues. Key influencers in the company modeling desired behaviors wouldn’t hurt either. (Somebody has to talk to Fred and soon.)
Even in an “at-will” state like North Carolina, well-intended, experienced employers can find themselves at-risk for violating employees’ legal rights. It’s all about taking the guess-work out of your employment practices. How hard is it to guess the right answer? Oh, I don’t know… Guess who keeps telling his assistant to wear low cut blouses when clients come into the office? Guess who refuses to pay her staff overtime but promises “comp” time instead? Guess who just found a “ethnic joke” posted in the staff room? Guess who just got fired without a single piece of documentation about performance? Guess who turns out not to have a MBA after all? Guess which salesperson insists he can no longer drive to customer sites because of his worsening glaucoma?
Taking the guess-work out of employment law means that, after a comprehensive review of your employee policies and practices you’ve identified areas of exposure, revised your practices and educated your management team. And most importantly, eliminating that guessing game means that you’ve implemented improvements that demonstrate to your employees that you are serious about their value to the company and your commitment to outstanding employee relations.