12 Most Useful Tips for Avoiding Employment Lawsuits
Employers are always at risk of lawsuits, even when they are doing things right. You can dot every “i” and cross every “t” and still struggle to navigate the minefield of employment law. There are, however, some basic strategies that can be implemented to make employment lawsuits less likely. Here are 12:
1. Have written policies
Ensure your company policies are up to date and include wording that communicates that the company does not tolerate harassment, discrimination, bullying and violence. Policies should clearly state that misconduct can be physical, verbal or written and that violators will be disciplined.
2. Train employees
Conduct periodic training with all employees to ensure everyone understands what constitutes employee misconduct. Role-playing and examples can help to illustrate what is and isn’t acceptable behavior in the workplace.
3. Monitor behavior
Spend time interacting with employees every day. Walk around in the workplace, talking to employees and watching for warning signs of harassment or bullying. Correct any misconduct immediately. Talking to employees has other benefits besides avoiding lawsuits. Who knows, you might even enjoy it.
4. Have an open-door policy
Make it clear to all employees that they can talk to anyone in the company, right up to the top levels, without fear of repercussions. Encourage employees to report wrongdoing or suspicion of wrongdoing and stress the fact that there will be no retaliation for speaking up. Then follow through on that promise by implementing #5.
5. Facilitate anonymous reporting
Implement an anonymous hotline so that workers can report misconduct or suspicions without fear of repercussions. Publicize the hotline number and encourage employees to use it. Stress the fact that all reports are anonymous and that all complaints will be investigated thoroughly.
6. Hire carefully
Perform thorough background checks on all employment candidates. Telephone references and previous employers and ask them specific questions that prove that the reference is legitimate. Ask former employers about more than just the candidate’s work performance to ensure he or she will be a good fit in your company. Assess each candidate’s ability to fit into the culture in your company.
7. Fire carefully
Ensure all disciplinary action and performance monitoring has been fully documented before considering termination for misconduct. Assess the employee’s inclusion in any protected categories before termination and ensure you have an airtight reason that is not related to his or her inclusion in a category. If in doubt, consult an employment attorney before taking any action. In fact, do this even if you’re not in doubt.
8. Document employee performance
Conduct regular performance assessments with every employee and document the conversations thoroughly. If you are taking corrective action or counseling an employee about his or her performance or behavior, record the details.
9. Discipline logically
Be fair and transparent when disciplining an employee for misconduct. Ensure you are applying the rules uniformly across the company. Be aware of your own biases, especially when it comes to employees in protected classes. Talk to an employment attorney before taking action if you have any doubts, and even if you don’t.
10. Investigate every complaint
Take all complaints seriously, even those that come from chronic complainers. Demonstrate that you are committed to following up on employees’ concerns and document your responses so that you can prove you addressed concerns appropriately.
11. Treat employees fairly
Be aware of your own weaknesses and biases toward employees who don’t fit your concept of the perfect worker. Self-awareness can stop you from saying and doing things that can get you into trouble.
12. Be an example
Make it clear that you don’t condone bad behavior by demonstrating an ethical and positive tone from the top. Then surround yourself with people who share your values and can help to exemplify the kind of behavior you want to foster in your company.
Implementing these 12 strategies may not guarantee you a free ride past the courtroom, but it can help to ensure that if you do end up in court, you can demonstrate that your company does all it can to provide a fair, ethical and safe workplace for every employee.
Do you follow these strategies? What else does your company do to minimize the risk of lawsuits?
Featured image courtesy of steakpinball licensed via Creative Commons.