5 Tips to Help Managers Minimize Lawsuits
Great managers are skilled at connecting with employees and motivating them to work productively as part of a team. Having strong managers is essential for building your company’s profitability and reputation as a great place to work. However, even great managers, with the best of intentions, can inadvertently make mistakes that might expose your company to lawsuits and fines.
Employee lawsuits are an unfortunate reality in today’s workplace, and a source of concern to employers. Even a completely baseless suit can cost six figures to defend; if there’s merit behind the charges, the legal bills, fines, and settlement fees can ruin a small business. Your managers, who are the first line of employee contact, have the power to minimize some of that exposure.
Let’s take a look at five moves your managers can make to reduce your risk of a lawsuit.
1. Document Everything. This starts with the interview and extends to every aspect of management and supervisory functions. Remember, any document can potentially be used as a piece of evidence in the event of a lawsuit, so managers must be thorough. As an employer, stress the importance of documentation, provide forms and guidelines for managers to follow, and establish procedures for where and how long such documents will be stored, being sure to comply with any requirements set by law. Furthermore, ask your managers to be honest in all aspects of documentation. Many managers, for example, are tempted to gloss over areas of weakness in written performance reviews. While they may be motivated out of kindness toward the employee, they are actually putting their companies at risk in the event such an individual is eventually fired. In all cases, the records must be accurate.
2. Understand Discrimination and Harassment Laws. There are numerous federal and state laws that offer protection from discrimination based on gender, race, age, religion, disability, ethnic or cultural background, sexual orientation and other factors. Make sure your managers receive anti-discrimination training and know what they can and cannot ask or require of their employees. A simple remark, made casually, could wind up being the basis of a lawsuit. Similarly, your managers need to understand the laws surrounding sexual harassment in the workplace, how to prevent it from occurring, and what steps should be taken if an employee complains of harassment. Even behavior that may be the norm in your organization or corporate culture could be perceived as crossing the line, and may trigger a lawsuit.
3. Follow Appropriate Disciplinary Procedures. If you do not already have such procedures in place, consider developing a progressive discipline policy and direct your managers on how to implement it consistently and fairly. For example, an employee with a performance or behavioral issue will first receive a verbal warning, then a written warning. If the underperformance or behavior persists, the issue will then be elevated to another level of supervision or management intervention. Under no circumstances should a manager fire an employee on his or her own. Even the most egregious infractions should be dealt with according to proper procedures.
4. Understand and Administer Corporate Policy. Every organization should maintain and distribute a print or digital format corporate handbook. The policies outlined in that document are the blueprint to how your organization is run, and the handbook itself can become a legal piece of evidence in the case of a lawsuit where an employee claims that he or she has been treated unfairly.
5. Display Fairness, Approachability, Accountability. These personal attributes will go a long way toward both managing effectively and building goodwill among employees. This is particularly true when an employee has a complaint or issue, or when something goes wrong. No matter how busy a manager may be with other responsibilities, he or she must make time to listen and work with employees who have complaints or problems. Similarly, when mistakes are made, a strong manager will take responsibility for his or her part in the situation when appropriate, rather than deflect blame onto those employees under the manager’s supervision.
Remember, there is no magic formula for perfect management, and no guarantee that your company won’t become the target of an employee lawsuit. But taking time to help your managers cover these bases will go a long way toward protecting your company and your future.
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