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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Human Resources 2009

Human Resources 2009: Make Your Resolutions Today
Reprint - Opelika & Aburn News, Dec. 28, 2008

To keep your employer out of the courtroom, the EEOC, DOL, OSHA, DHS offices, etc, during 2009, I recommend you make a few simple New Year's Resolutions Today.
Resolve to audit your Handbook, Policies & Forms. Not just updating your policies in light of changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, E-Verify, an aggressive labor movement and Democratic Administration. Handbooks, Policies and Forms should be reviewed by an outside professional at least once a year to ensure that they not only remain compliant with laws and regulations, but also are aligned with your organizational goals and best management practices.

Resolve not to rely on employment at-will when firing employees. Employees who are not given a reason for their termination fill in the blank, assigning the termination to the discriminatory or retaliatory mindset of their boss. What kind of a message are you sending to the rest of your workforce when you fire someone for a reason such as "just because I thought it was in the best interest of the Company".

Resolve to Document, Document, Document. Poor record-keeping practices can sink your Company’s ship in a Courtroom or at the EEOC. With the new Democratic Administration it will be extra challenging trying to prove that: an employee deserved to be fired; retaliation was not a reason; the person did not deserve to be hired or promoted; a worker had performance deficiencies; a proper harassment investigation was conducted; workers were paid correctly their regular and overtime wages; employees received training; everyone has a sign off confirming they were aware of company rules; etc.
Resolve not to be overly nice. Never overreact and fire an employee before you've conducted a proper “cool headed” investigation with written disciplinary procedures. Failing to react to a situation can be just as harmful. Letting an employee's infractions slide makes it harder later to prove consistency. Remember my # 1 HR Rule: “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”. Don’t allow supervisors to make the mistake of trying to motivate under performing workers with raises, bonuses, or overly positive (untrue) performance reviews.

Resolve to keep emotions in check. A supervisor who is angry with an employee for making an unjustified harassment complaint and reacts by taking harsh action can get you in hot water with the EEOC with a retaliation Charge. Keep a sharp eye over adverse employment decisions that affect employees who have recently engaged in protected activity, or who fall in a protected category.

Resolve to keep Counsel in the loop. The time to seek wise counsel is not when a legal problem is steaming teapot. Rather my #2 HR Rule: “Nip it in the Bud”! If you have any doubts about your judgment to handle a difficult situation, it is worth 30 minutes of consultation time to stay out of court and egg off your face, not counting racking up huge legal bills later and putting your job on the line.

Tommy Eden is a Lee County native, an attorney with the local office of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901. Blog at www.alabamaatwork.com