In yesterday’s Advisor, attorney Wendy Warner explained how employers make things worse for themselves when lawsuits threaten. Today she shares ideas on how to make things better.
Warner usually represents employees, but changed hats at a recent Society for Human Resources (SHRM) convention. Here are her simple steps employers can take “to keep lawyers like me at bay.” Warner is a partner with Moody & Warner, P.C., in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
- Be responsive to complaints.
- Act quickly.
- Have at least some skepticism about the supervisor’s statements.
- Verify the employee’s version. Ask yourself: How would I respond if everything the employee says is true? Act as if the claim has merit.
- Investigate the complaint at least as thoroughly as you investigate employee misconduct. (Warner told of a case where an employee infraction was investigated like CSI—interviews with every connected party, reviewing of security tapes, pulling of documents, etc., while the employee’s counter complaint of retaliation got one quick interview.)
- Act as if you care about the employee—at least recognize that the issue is real to them.
- Take mitigating steps (changing offices or reporting relationships, for example) as needed.
- Use a consistent process.
- Document what you did and when.
- Discipline those about whom the allegations were made. At the very least, review the policy with them and have them acknowledge it in writing.
- Discipline the manager who dropped the ball:
- You saw inappropriate conduct but did not take action.
- You observed language/jokes but did not intervene.
- You received a complaint and did nothing.
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- Have great documentation.
- Notes taken of meetings/complaints
- Reports or documents showing the employee’s actual mistakes
- Progressive discipline and agreement from the employee to try harder
- E-mail or other notes showing the employee’s poor attitude, waste of time, mistakes
- Display candor and empathy. “We are really sorry. We messed up. We feel terrible. This is how we fixed it.”
If you do the things listed above, “This kills!” says Warner. “It goes a long way to weakening my case. And it makes it hard to get punitive damages. So it can help you win the case, or at least make my client come way down in his or her settlement expectations.”
Top 4 Things Plaintiff’s Lawyers Hate
Warner summed up with her top four things she hates in an employer/defendant:
1. You responded. You made an immediate, appropriate, and adequate investigation.
2. You fixed the problem; the inappropriate conduct stopped.
3. You took corrective action and fired the bad actor, if appropriate.
4. You tried to make it right. You offered something to “compensate” my client. For example, you offered time off to regroup, reimbursement of counseling expenses, a new location, a different supervisor, repayment of lost wages, etc.
“That totally guts my case,” says Warner. And, by the way, if you offered it and the client turned it down, it starts to look as though the client is just in it for the money. “That’s not good for me,” she says.
How about your managers and supervisors? Might they make any of Warner’s mistakes? Especially when they’re new to the job, supervisors don’t know how to handle things like harassment complaints (or hiring, firing, FMLA, or accommodating a disability, for that matter).
It’s not their fault—you didn’t hire them for their HR knowledge—and you can’t expect them to act appropriately right out of the box. But you can train them to do it.
Train your line managers with BLR’s 10-Minute HR Trainer. There won’t be time for classroom boredom. Try it free. Read more.
To train supervisors and managers effectively, you need a program that’s easy for you to deliver and that requires little time out of busy schedules. Also, if you’re like most companies in these tight budget days, you need a program that’s reasonable in cost.
We asked our editors what they recommend for training supervisors in a minimum amount of time with maximum effect. They came back with BLR’s unique 10-Minute HR Trainer.
As its name implies, it trains managers and supervisors in critical HR skills in as little as 10 minutes for each topic. 10-Minute HR Trainer offers these features:
•Trains in 50 key HR topics, including manager and supervisor responsibilities under all major employment laws and how to legally carry out managerial actions from hiring to termination. See a complete list of topics, below.
•Uses the same teaching sequence master teachers use. Every training unit includes an overview, bullet points on key lessons, a quiz, and a handout to reinforce the lesson later.
•Completely prewritten and self-contained. Each unit comes as a set of reproducible documents. Just make copies or turn them into overheads, and you’re done. Take a look at a sample lesson.
•Updated continually. As laws change, your training needs do as well. 10-Minute HR Trainer provides new lessons and updated information every 90 days, along with a monthly Training Forum newsletter, for as long as you are in the program.
•Works fast. Each session is so focused that there’s not a second’s waste of time. Your managers are in and out almost before they can look at the clock. Yet they remember small details even months later.
Evaluate It at No Cost for 30 Days
We’ve arranged to make 10-Minute HR Trainer available to our readers for a 30-day, in-office, no-cost trial. Review it at your own pace and try some lessons with your colleagues. If it’s not for you, return it at our expense. Let us know, and we’ll set things up.