Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Penny-wise, pound-foolish employment practices

Penny-wise, pound-foolish employment practices Rush Nigut of Rush on Business shares some words on wisdom for businesses on doing things right on the front end versus paying a lot more to fix them on the back end. His advice is tailored to general business issues, and it got me thinking about what employers can do proactively in their workplaces to avoid the headaches of litigation and its high costs. It may cost some legal fees up front to have an attorney bring your workplace into compliance, but that cost pales in comparison to what it would cost in legal fees to defend a bad policy or practice in litigation.

  1. Review and update handbooks, policy manuals, and forms (such as applications, FMLA forms, background check authorizations, etc.). While the Internet provides a wealth of business resources, using canned materials can be dangerous. One does not know who prepared the materials, if a lawyer reviewed them, and if they were reviewed, under which state's law the review was conducted. Laws change almost daily; it's dangerous to assume that free forms on the web are reviewed and updated that frequently.
  2. In this era of electronic discovery, a document retention and destruction program is a must. If documents are destroyed during litigation, even accidentally, it is virtually impossible to explain that destruction to a judge if you don't have a retention policy and a workable litigation hold in place. Lawyers need to be involved early in this process to advise how long to keep documents outside of litigation, and what documents need to be kept when litigation becomes reasonably anticipated.
  3. Implement a harassment training program, which includes a basic review of policies for new hires, and comprehensive training for all employees at least once every two years. A quick trip back through my archives will reveal how companies get tripped up by not providing this essential training. In my experience, employees tend to take this issue much more seriously when a lawyer is presenting as opposed to a co-worker.
  4. Audit job descriptions and employee classifications for wage and hour compliance. Again, my archives are filled with wage and hour nightmares. Wage and hour litigation has become the hot employment claim for 2007 and beyond. It's naive to think that at some point your company will not have a wage and hour issue to deal with. Better to get your hands around it now than when a class action or the Department of Labor forces your hand.
  5. Make sure that all managers and supervisors properly document all performance problems. This point should be self-evident, but it always amazes me how many issues I have with empty personnel files for so-called problem employees. A quick call to counsel to confirm whether an employee can be terminated would save a lot of heartache in having to defend a poorly documented firing.

Rush Nigut, citing to Chris Moander of the Wisconsin Business Law and Litigation Blog, sums up this idea by reminding businesses that they can pay for it now, or pay a lot more for it later: "Many business people sadly lump legal services into the 'too costly' or 'unnecessary' categories when it comes to starting or running a business. And while good legal services are not cheap it may actually save you in the long run.... It costs a lot more to repair ... than to do it right in the first place." I could not have said it better myself (which is why I didn't).