Thursday, December 17, 2015

What Star Wars teaches us about employee relations #TheForceAwakens

My earliest cinematic memories involve Star Wars.

I don’t really remember seeing A New Hope in the theater (I was only 4 years old), but I know I did. I vividly remember watching The Empire Strikes Back with my dad at the Nashaminy Mall. The theater was packed, we were stuck behind two towering men, and I watched with my head peaking between their seats. That’s where my jaw hit the floor when Vader proclaimed that he was Luke’s father. And, with my fandom at a crescendo, I remember my parents pulling me out of school on opening day of Return of the Jedi so that we could wait in line to ensure our seats.

Thank god for Fandango, because Donovan, with his now one-tracked Star Wars mind, and I can see The Force Awakens without disrupting his schooling. Saturday afternoon, I will experience the pure joy of introducing my son to a new Star Wars movie.

The premier of Episode VII has got me thinking, what can Star Wars teach us about employment law?

Join the rebels and fight the dark side.

What do I mean?

First, join the rebels. Don’t be an HR conformist. Introduce new ideas to your organization. Don’t be a slave to dogma. Sexual orientation discrimiation isn’t yet illegal in your jurisdiction? Prohibit in you workplace anyway. Move from a fixed paid-time-off system to one of unlimited time off. Embrace telework and flexible work schedules. Let your employees post to Facebook and shop on Amazon. These ideas are far from new, but they are different enough to set your company apart from your competitors. Each offers a real benefit that will help you attract and retain good employees.

Secondly, fight the dark side. Employees often view the HR department, and by extension, the employment lawyers that help guide them, as agents of the dark side. We are the agents of “no.” “No, you can’t take that leave.” “No, you are now on a final written warning.” “No, we are going to have to fire you.” It’s often an unenviable and dark position to be in.

Yet, rather than embracing the evilness of no, let’s embrace the possibilities of “maybe.” Instead of defaulting to “no,” instead use the following as your decisional guidepost. If you treat your employees as you would want to treated (or as you would want your wife, kids, parents, etc. to be treated), most employment cases would never be filed, and most that are filed would end in the employer’s favor. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Juries are comprised of many more employees than employers, and if jurors feel that the plaintiff was treated the same way the jurors would want to be treated, the jury will be much less likely to find in the employee’s favor.

May the force be with you all.