Submitted by: Lori Armstrong Halber and Rick Grimaldi, Partners at Fisher & Phillips LLP

Whether you have 4 employees or 4,000, as an employer you are subject to numerous workplace laws and regulations.  These laws regulate pay practices, prohibit discrimination, harassment and retaliation in the workplace, and impose other requirements on employers.  We devote our law practice to representing employers in all aspects of workplace law.  Just as many people only call the doctor when they are sick, oftentimes businesses do not call us until they have been sued by an employee or received a notice from a government agency.   Unfortunately, by then, the cure proves costlier than the prevention.  Here are three “check-ups” that you can do to minimize your liability.

Have a Handbook and Policies and Follow Them Consistently

Employees do better when they know and understand what is expected of them.  A handbook not only satisfies legal obligations where those policies are required by law, but also provides written documentation of the rules, regulations, privileges and responsibilities for your employees and for the company.  It does not have to be voluminous – work with your attorney or human resources professional to tailor it to your company’s needs.  Your handbook should make clear that it is not a contract, that it trumps previous policy documents (and past practices), and that the policies may be subject to change.  That said, you should not include anything in your handbook that you do not intend to follow.  Have your employees sign an acknowledgment page that they have read and understand the handbook and that they agree to follow the policies.  Finally, make sure you apply policies fairly and consistently.  Otherwise, you could subject the company to discrimination claims.

Train Your Supervisors

From your employees’ perspective, their immediate supervisor is the face of your company.  Supervisors are often promoted based on technical skill – i.e., she is the best engineer we have, we will make her the manager – and then thrown into what is a very different job without being taught any of the skills needed to be an effective leader/manager.  Frontline supervisors are most often the people in the company that inadvertently do something that  causes employees to seek the intervention of an outside party such as a government agency, union, or attorney  to help them resolve a perceived or real workplace issue.  To prevent these situations it is essential that employers invest in proper training for their front line supervisors.  We are not suggesting that supervisors , heaven forbid, become lawyers  but they must know how to properly handle situations involving their subordinates and understand their role in good employee relations.  Training teaches supervisors to recognize issues before they escalate into policy violations or worse, legal problems.  Supervisors should be trained to develop  good communication (including listening) skills, to utilize sound performance management tools, and to effectively resolve conflict in the workplace. Ultimately, supervisor training provides the solid foundation for good leaders, in partnership with human resources, to  ensure a respectful and successful work environment.

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