HR Hero Line

Things for which an HR manager should be thankful

by Richard Yurko

The challenges facing HR managers can be daunting. Amendments to the law, new and changing federal and state administrative policies, and a diverse workforce all contribute to the difficulty of appropriately resolving employee issues. As we enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday, here are some things for which every HR manager should be thankful. 

An HR staff aware of changes in the law
A good relationship with your general counsel is essential in ensuring that your policies comply with all applicable federal and state statutes, regulations, case law, and administrative rules. Whether you have a regular meeting with your general counsel to discuss employment issues or your attorney regularly sends memoranda or e-mails advising you of important updates, you need to have a source that keeps you and your staff educated appropriately. If you don’t have a general counsel, there are services that provide updates and summaries of changes in the law.

For example, you should take advantage of seminars and presentations made by law firms or other organizations. If you use an outside law firm to handle your legal issues, take advantage of that relationship. If you learn of a legal issue while watching the evening news or browsing the Internet, call your outside counsel to discuss the potential impact of the issue on your organization. Such a call may go a long way toward helping you avoid adverse legal consequences in the future.

Updated personnel policies
Once you are current on the latest law, make sure your personnel policies are updated and accurately reflect both your company’s and the employees’ obligations. Such a review should include whether you are posting the appropriate notices as well as whether your written policies are current and appropriately communicated to all employees. All too often, we find employers with policies that don’t comply with current law. When you’re reviewing your policies because you’re embroiled in litigation, the review is too late.

Review your policies whenever a significant change in the law might affect your obligations to your employees. A regular annual review is also recommended. Whether the review is done by your general counsel or outside counsel, consider it your organization’s annual physical examination to ensure a healthy future. You need to determine, through discussions with your attorney, the types of policies you should have and how those policies should be communicated to your employees. The old maxim “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is certainly applicable here.

A well-educated workforce
Not only must your HR staff be knowledgeable about your organization’s personnel policies, but your workforce should also be aware of the rules. The best policies in the world won’t benefit your company if they aren’t adequately communicated to your employees.

Educating your employees starts with orientation. Make the orientation more than just a paper-signing affair. Have someone available to answer any questions from your new employees. And make sure each employee reads and acknowledges that she has read the policies.

Education doesn’t end with orientation. Annual training on certain matters is required, but even if something doesn’t require annual training, it’s always a good idea to have annual refresher training on important company policies. Make sure that you’re doing more than just filling in a square when you conduct your training. Inadequate training may be just as bad as no training at all. You should also consider regular training just for supervisory employees. After all, your supervisors are your first line of defense against employer liability.

Open lines of communication
As we noted, communicating and educating employees on your organization’s policies are important. It’s also important to maintain good everyday communication with your employees. An HR manager cannot be everywhere, so she must rely on information from line employees, supervisors, and management.

If the HR manager is aloof and unresponsive to communications from the workforce, employees may no longer be willing to share information with her. Sometimes, good communication can lead to resolving an issue before it becomes problematic. Moreover, if the communication is later deemed a complaint, the failure to respond promptly can severely limit your options if the matter ends up in litigation. While I’m not suggesting that HR managers become “best friends” with employees, it never hurts to be cordial and responsive.

Communication up the chain of command is also important. Be sure to keep management informed of any issues, large or small, as they develop. Nobody likes surprises, especially if those surprises put the organization in a bad light or, even worse, create liability.

Count your blessings
There are many things for which HR managers should be thankful. If you have a workforce that’s educated about and trained on current law, you’re likely to avoid the kinds of problems that can seriously affect morale and create liability for your organization. Confer with your attorneys to make sure your policies are consistent with current law. Also check with counsel to ensure you’re providing the appropriate workplace training. Finally, make sure communications are open both up and down the chain of command.

As you work through the holiday season, make sure your organization is able to count its blessings, not trying to figure out how to address employment issues that could’ve been avoided with good management.

Richard Yurko is an attorney with Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, practicing in the firm’s Bridgeport, West Virginia, office. He may be contacted at richard.yurko@steptoe-johnson.com.