What HR pros can learn from Casey Kasem

If you were a teenager in ’70s or ’80s who loved pop music, you undoubtedly recall huddling next to your AM transistor radio, maybe with your cassette recorder on standby so you could hit “record” at the just the right time, listening to “American Top 40” with its mellifluous host Casey Kasem. Each week, Casey would count down and play the current top 40 songs, as determined by Billboard magazine, over the course of his three-hour syndicated radio broadcast. In addition to the songs, Casey would sprinkle in trivia about the recording artists, dig back into the “AT40 Archives” for a few “golden oldies,” and bring a tear to our eyes with the “long-distance dedication” of a special song from a star-crossed lover to his or her far-away soul mate.

Those of us who grew up with Casey were saddened this week upon the news that he had passed away at age 82. Although many of the recent headlines followed his family’s unseemly bickering over his care in his final days, most observers were able to ignore that side-show and remember the legacy of the man who not only popularized the idea of the “top [fill in the number]” countdown list, but also provided the voice of Shaggy in 40 years’ worth of Scooby-Doo cartoons.

What better way, then, for an HR blog to honor the memory of Casey–to give him our own “long-distance dedication,” if you will–than to publish our list of the top ways to maintain a work environment free of employment lawsuits? Here, then, in tribute to the great Kemal Amin “Casey” Kasem (1932-2014), is our countdown of the Top 5 ways for an employer to avoid being sued by its employees.

5.  Properly train your managers. No matter how smart you are, all those seminars you attended, webinars you sort of paid attention to, and articles you read, or at least glanced at, will do your company no good when one of your managers fires an employee with a disability because she’s not quite ready to return to work after her 12-week Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)  leave runs out.   Or worse. The time you or your employment lawyer spend training your managers now will be time you don’t spend later sitting in on their depositions, after the company gets sued.

4.  Update those policies. Is your company using an employee handbook that was last reviewed by your employment lawyer in 2006, or worse yet, that isn’t customized for the specific states in which you have employees? That’s not good. If you work in HR, you know that employment law is constantly changing, and you also know that much of it is state-specific. Your 2011 handbook’s social media policy might violate the most recent pronouncements by the National Labor Relations Board, and your one-size-fits-all handbook probably doesn’t address that one quirky statute in that one quirky state where you just opened a (quirky) new facility. It’s time for your employment counsel to review and revise that handbook.

3.  Reasonably accommodate, and engage in the interactive process. Got an employee who suffers from a disability and needs help in order to do his job? Got an employee who wants time off during the workday for her prayer breaks? The law likely requires you to provide a reasonable accommodation to the first employee’s disability and the second employee’s religion, unless doing so would create an undue hardship. The law also likely requires you to engage in the “interactive process,” to work with those employees to try to figure out a practical solution you can both live with.  Mess it up, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will be spending so much time at your work site that they’ll be playing shortstop on your company softball team.

2.  Know the four R’s of a harassment complaint. What are the four R’s of a harassment complaint, you may well ask? First, recognize whether that employee’s complaint is, indeed, the sort of harassment complaint that has potential legal implications. If it is, then second: respond appropriately by promptly investigating the complaint. Third, once you have investigated, then if warranted, take prompt remedial action. The fourth R stands for retaliation, as in, don’t allow anyone to retaliate against the employee who made the complaint.   Once you do all these things, you can add a fifth R: rest.

1.  Wage and hour claims are your newest nightmare. All those attorneys who wanted to sue your company for sexual harassment in the past now would like to sue you for wage and hour violations. Not only that, but state and federal agencies have basically declared war on employers in this area of law. Those lawyers and agencies may have a different view than you do as to whether a particular worker is an employee or a contractor, is exempt or nonexempt, or is entitled to be paid for that time they spent donning and doffing their special work gear. In the world of employment litigation, these issues are now “number one, with a bullet.” Have your employment lawyer review your wage and hour practices before you end up on the wrong side of that complaint.

We could go on and on, of course, but it looks like we’ve run out of time. So until next week, to borrow Casey Kasem’s classic sign-off, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” Good-bye, Casey, and thanks for the memories!