This blog was written by Jeff Engh, Senior HR Business Partner and member of the People Strategy team at Helpside.
Whether you just started your business, or you have been in business for years, unfortunate but avoidable things can happen when an employee lands on a legal landmine and detonates it. You think to yourself, how could this have happened? We have a good workforce and pay our people well, why would they do this to me? The answer is simple and often forgotten. Avoiding legal landmines starts with getting down to the basics. A basketball player must practice basic free throws, an NFL kicker must practice basic field goal kicks, and a business owner (and their leadership team) must practice basic policies and procedures.
The supervisors in your organization often mean well, but as the owner of the company you have a vision and drive for your company that is unparalleled. It is east to believe that this same passion is shared by everyone in the workforce. Here is the hard truth: it is not.
You need to be ready and remind yourself and your supervisors of some basic overlooked steps to avoid legal landmines, and their dangerous repercussions.
Step 1: Performance documentation
This may be one of the hardest things for managers to do. Nobody likes to have the difficult conversation when an employee is harassing another. Nobody likes to tell their employee that their performance needs to be improved. It is uncharted territory for many in management but having these conversations and documenting them will be key if an employee takes you to court. Without it, well, consider it an almost guaranteed loss. Do not overlook this step and think it will correct itself. It won’t.
Step 2: Making exceptions
Sure Joe, you can have ten days off this year; but Jane, you only get four days off this year. You have a policy guide in place for a reason and once they are set, do not deviate from them. It does not matter if Joe is your best employee and you want to reward him for it. This is a classic case of discrimination and once exceptions are made, you are detonating the landmine. Make sure your supervisors understand how important it is to follow your own rules. Set them up to match your company culture, so you don’t feel the need to make exceptions.
Step 3: Training your front line
“Congratulations Mike! You’ve worked here for five years, so are our newest manager.” But Mike has never been in a supervisory role before. Tenure does not automatically equate to leadership skills. Mike doesn’t know to be on the lookout for the day-to-day gripes let alone how to handle them before a small issue turns into a big one. Invest in your management team because they are your first line of defense and should be best equipped to handle basic employee issues and concerns. Spend some time, effort, and potentially money to make them good managers rather than unfortunate witnesses.
Step 4: Complaint reporting procedures
Sometimes telling employees to go to their supervisor with concerns is the easiest thing to put in to practice, but what if the supervisor is the problem? A basic chain of command reporting system is what many organizations utilize and is a start, but there needs to be more. Consider an Open-Door Policy where employees can call, text, or email a complaint either anonymously or in full disclosure to be investigated by HR or upper management. This also becomes a place for employees to feel comfortable reporting issues to when their supervisor is the problem.
Legal landmines don’t have to keep employers up at night. Start with these basic steps and spend some time assessing how you manage your business. Are your management practices aligned with your employee handbook? If things are aligned, you should sleep better at night. If not, now is a good time to make a change.