For most business owners and HR professionals, tending to day-to-day operations while being mindful of potential employment law risks can be taxing. Yet, without regular attention to HR law requirements, a business can unwittingly find itself in court. Many companies seek Human Resources Counsel from an attorney well versed in employment law.
With over two decades of experience working with Chicago businesses, our firm appreciates the HR challenges employers face, and the mistakes that most often lead to costly employment lawsuits and workplace disputes. In this article, we cover six of the most common mistakes busy business owners and human resource managers make, and recommend how to correct them.
#1: Failing to Train the Workforce
HR policies and procedures are important, but to bulletproof an organization from HR lawsuits, all employees and managers should regularly be trained on certain issues. It’s especially important to require all new employees to complete anti-discrimination and harassment prevention training, and to give supervisors extra training on their unique obligations to address discrimination and harassment issues. Likewise, overtime eligible (that is, non-exempt) workers should be trained on how to record their time and the importance of recording all times worked. Other important training topics include the proper use of social media and personal electronic devices for work purposes, the process for requesting disability-related workplace accommodations, and requirements for reporting workplace injuries and illness. Refresher training on these and other topics should occur regularly.
#2: Not Educating Managers on their FLSA and FMLA Obligations
Although typically delegated to HR, the legal responsibility for a business’ compliance with wage payment and leave laws falls on the shoulders of every manager. Yet many companies never alert managers to these obligations, let alone take the time to teach managers what they need to know to fulfill them. Consequently, managers often make critical mistakes that result in costly lawsuits, such as by not responding to employee requests for legally-required time off at the proper time, or by allowing workers to work off the clock unpaid. Such mistakes can be avoided with proper processes crafted with the assistance of experienced HR law counsel.
#3: Ignoring Employee Complaints
Internal workplace disputes often result in unnecessary employment lawsuits simply because employee complaints to management are ignored. Supervisors may sit on workplace complaints, or hide them from upper management altogether, for fear that employee grievances might reflect poorly on them. Yet ignoring workplace complaints, particularly when they highlight employment law violations, can make matters much worse, by leaving workers with no choice but to seek help from others, including lawyers. Businesses can avoid this problem by publicizing a well-crafted complaint process that gives workers multiple avenues for raising concerns, and by penalizing managers and HR managers when they don’t properly follow up on such complaints. Under some circumstances, a well-documented complaint procedure can also help a business to avoid or reduce liability in a later employment lawsuit.
#4: Not Adopting or Updating an Employee Handbook
Creating an employee handbook can seem like a daunting task. Many businesses have few, if any, written policies in place. Others may have adopted individual written employee policies in the past with little, if any, consideration given to how the policies can or should fit together. Yet failure to adopt, and regularly update, an employee handbook poses its own set of HR law risks. Handbooks are important for welcoming new employees and explaining expectations. Grouping policies together in a handbook also ensures that every employee receives copies of all relevant guidelines, particularly around matters governed by ever-changing employment laws, like pay, leave, and workplace safety, to name just a few. A well-crafted handbook fosters a workplace where employment law requirements are respected, and lawsuits are avoided.
#5: Not Evaluating Employees Regularly and Properly
Periodic employee performance reviews can be a valuable tool to help employers improve performance and employee morale at their company. Performance evaluations may be used as a basis for employment decisions, to improve performance of underperforming employees and to document employee progress at the company. Poorly executed performance reviews, however, can increase legal risk by providing evidence to employees to use in employment-related lawsuits. An employee may rely on positive, vague or ambiguous performance reviews to prove that the employer unlawfully discriminated against them. To reduce risks associated with performance reviews, businesses should ensure their supervisors and HR staffs are consistent in how they approach reviews, use specific examples to support performance ratings, and conduct reviews objectively. Businesses can accomplish these objectives by administering a performance review policy and having HR audit reviews for supervisor compliance.
#6: Not Staying Up to Date on Employment Law
Awareness of employment laws is important, yet that awareness can grow stale quickly. Employment laws change every day. Failing to keep up and adjust business practices and HR policies to reflect new obligations can have devastating results. Forging a relationship with an experienced Chicago employment law attorney can ensure that your business is always up to date with employment law requirements.
Contact A Chicago Employment Law Attorney
Savine Employment Law, Ltd. represents Chicago and Illinois employers in all aspects of labor and employment law. Our starting point is a preventive approach – we first aim to ensure our clients comply with the law and avoid employee disputes. When disputes arise, we look for peaceful paths to resolution that service the business’s goals. When lawsuits result, we defend our clients aggressively and creatively. Call Savine Employment Law, Ltd. today for a Chicago employment