4 Crucial Skills for Handling Employee Issues so you don’t Get Sued

The reality is that most small business owners don’t have the luxury of hiring a seasoned, skilled, Human Resources professional who has experience handling the toughest employee issues. The reality is, that most of the time the owner himself/herself are the ones directly managing employee issues along with the very long list of other important tasks they have on their plate. Or, sometimes, employee issues and tasks will be delegated to an office manager or admin who had little to no prior experience in Human Resources. Or, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who has been able to hire an experienced HR person. All of these scenarios are very understandable!

But the reality is, in California, it’s not good enough. You must invest in training and support for that office manager or yourself, or even that HR person. Because CA employment law is changing rapidly and because CA holds you to the same standards as the big corporations who have teams of lawyers working for them, you have to invest into the protection of your business or, you can almost guarantee a devastating, bankrupting, employee lawsuit.

So, here are 4 Crucial Skills for you, the owner, or the office manager, or even the HR person, handling HR responsibilities:

1. CYA

The first (and possibly the best!) lesson I learned as a new Human Resources professional when I first started my career in hotels, was to CYA: Cover your Ass(ets). My boss, a very seasoned HR professional taught me a system to log and date every interaction I had with employees and managers regarding employee issues. She taught me this, because she knew from experience that if you didn’t write it down, it was unlikely you would remember. But also, because if you wrote it down, chances are it could jog your mind later if someone tried to say you said or did something that you didn’t. This very simple lesson and system is still a system I implement in my own note taking and file management.

What You can do Now: Implement a log for employee conversations, meetings, and phone calls. Date and time stamp it and maintain the log on an on going basis. This will help you later refute a lawsuit, and jog your memory when you need it the most.

2. Have a Witness and Open a Door

This one may be the hardest one to do, because many small business owners don’t have managers or co-owners to rely on. But, whenever meeting with an employee, as much as possible, take a witness with you. This person should be a co-owner, an HR rep, or a neutral third party, so they can witness the conversation. This person should not be another employee, or an employee’s relative, or an employee’s lawyer. By having another person, you are creating a record and reducing the risk of a he said/she said type of situation occurring. Keeping a door or a window open during the conversation, with direct lines of sight in and out of the room will protect you from allegations of impropriety. Please don’t fool yourself that this can’t happen! Instead, protect yourself and remove opportunities for allegations to be made.

What you can do now: Make a list of who can help as your witness when the time comes. Partner with an outside HR or employment lawyer to support you and your business.

3. Don’t have all the answers

One of my clients, a busy restaurant, had reached their breaking point, when they sat an employee down who had had repeated attendance issues. Because of her mounting frustrations, things got heated and my client snapped. She agreed to things she shouldn’t have just to avoid the conflict. My client instead should have walked away, told the employee she needed to get back to her, and then called our team to help. Instead, she tried to address everything in the moment, because her ego was implicated, and she ended up putting her business at risk.

What you can do now: Take a deep breath and release your ego! Do not have all the answers and do not pretend to. Practice phrases like: “I don’t know but I’ll get back to you,” or “Let’s reconvene on this later.”

4. Train, Train, Train

“The better the training, the better the defense!” is what I always say. A lot of employers think that we do training to check a box-a compliance box. However, we don’t do training just for compliance. Instead, we do it to show that we do not endorse a culture that breaks the law and violates policy. By training consistently and documenting it, we can show that we have clear policies that are inconsistent with behaviors out side of it. It is our best defense in a lawsuit, and it is our justification to terminate employees who do not adhere to policy.

What you can do now: Identify the subjects that are legally required to provide training on. Make a list and a calendar of when and how you can complete this. Partner with subject matter experts and make your training the best, not just compliant.

San Gabriel Valley Law is THE Human Resources Law Firm protecting CA Business Owners. Protect your business by scheduling your legal strategy session today at www.sangabrielvalleylaw.com

*As always, information is not legal advice and is not intended to be comprehensive and should not be relied upon. Readers should consult a lawyer for current up to date standards. Intended for CA audiences only. No Attorney Client relationship is formed by the viewing or interaction of this information.