By Jezebel P. Lima, LKLSG Attorney
A big part of my job as an employment lawyer is to counsel my clients on how to implement policies and procedures in the workplace that will protect both the client and their employees. The first thing that I advise clients to do is to have a strong training program.
Part of our seminar includes discussing various scenarios where prohibited conduct is implicated and then talking about how the manager should handle the situation to reach the best resolution possible. We also remind our managers that they have to be vigilant because by knowingly doing nothing to prevent illegal conduct, they could be deemed responsible for the creation of a hostile work environment.
The second thing we counsel clients to do is to keep an open door policy and foster a culture of open communication. Something we suggest for larger organizations is to implement an employee hotline, where employees who do not feel comfortable reporting grievances in person can use this method to report their complaints.
The key is to investigate every complaint, no matter how it is received (orally, in person, by telephone, etc.) and document the resolution. When a company demonstrates to its employees by its actions that all complaints are important, it fosters a positive work environment where employees are more productive because they feel safe and respected.
The third, and very important, component of our risk management program is the implementation of a progressive disciplinary system with clear job duties and responsibilities for each employee. A progressive disciplinary system usually involves reprimanding an employee for failing to do the employee’s job in a manner that starts off with “light” discipline, such as a verbal reprimand, and then increases in severity once the employee is given the opportunity to correct the employee’s behavior but fails to do so.
Other forms of discipline include written reprimands, suspension with pay, suspension without pay, and termination. The goal is for all employees to know exactly what is expected of them and what the consequences are for poor performance. Nobody should be treated differently for any reason other than job performance.
By knowing exactly what the expectations are for each employee, fairness is ensured for all. Management should always follow the golden rule: all job decisions must be for job related reasons. This includes hiring, firing, promotion, pay increase, promotion, demotion, etc.
Related to the progressive disciplinary system, is our fourth recommendation: an employee handbook. The handbook should outline not only the benefits offered by the employer such as paid time off and medical insurance, but also explain the progressive disciplinary system and list examples of the type of conduct that is prohibited. The handbook should also clearly set forth the company’s anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy (which every company should have, of course).
Fifth, but not last in importance, is to pay attention to your interview process. Before interviewing a candidate, management should first think about the job requirements for the position being filled and then design specific questions narrowly tailored to determine whether a candidate is qualified for the position.
If you ever run out of questions at an interview, stick to topics directly from the candidate’s resume and stay away from personal topics. Remember the news paper rule – never make comments you would not feel comfortable being attributed to you in a newspaper!
By implementing these five risk management must haves, a company will automatically be more successful because it will lead to an improved environment, which should lead to a more content and productive workforce. L&C
Jezabel P. Lima is a Partner at Levine Kellogg Lehman Schneider + Grossman who focuses her practice on labor and employment, complex commercial litigation and civil appellate litigation.
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