By: Dan Cohen – 1/19/16
I hate to be the one who told you so, but I am telling you so: you better make sure your managers know what they’re doing. They are the ones who get you in trouble 9 times out of 10. This is not because they’re bad people or don’t care about your business. It is a simple question of not having the resources at their disposal. This is particularly true of small businesses where there is no HR Department, HR Specialist or even an Office Manager, who dabbles in personnel issues. How hard is it to gather the troops together for two hours and get them some training? It’s not a daunting task or an expensive proposition.
I can say without hesitation those companies that take the time once a year to sit their managers down and walk them through some basic concepts about discrimination, retaliation and harassment as well as proper ways to document misconduct and performance issues are the ones that stay out of court. If it were me, I would rather pay my attorney for annual training then preparing me for my deposition in a wrongful discharge case that grows out of a poorly documented discharge. Don’t get me wrong: I will gladly and ferociously defend you in that wrongful discharge case, but at the end of the day, you will come away from the experience with a bad taste in your mouth, win, lose or draw.
So, where do you start? Your handbook is the most logical point of reference. This is where your EEO policy with its complaint procedure, your FMLA policy, work rules, attendance policy, benefits and more are most likely published. A basic training program for your managers would identify new provisions as well as why certain policies exist, how they work and what their obligations are under the various company policies. For example, a good harassment policy sets forth prohibited conduct, what employees can do if they feel they have been harassed, assures victims that the company will review/investigate complaints and that the Company will enforce the policy through remedial efforts. It will also provide for some degree of privacy and an anti-retaliation feature. A simple training program would educate managers on their responsibilities under the policy, including the identification of prohibited conduct, how to communicate with victims as well as perpetrators and witnesses, how to document the file and how to manage the situation going forward. The program could also include training on the nuts and bolts of conducting the investigation and wrapping it up.
Many non-union businesses can benefit from training on “union avoidance” given the recent implementation of the NLRB’s “ambush” or “quickie” election rules. These rules greatly disadvantage businesses responding to union election petitions. Explaining the process to managers, how and why employees turn to unions and what can/should be done now and if and when the union comes knocking can make all the difference in the world.
You are better off “getting out in front of these issues” than merely reacting to problems as they arise. For one, most problems can be prevented. More important: cleaning up messes costs more and becomes a distraction for your employees. Don’t wait for a costly mistake. Train your managers and empower them through knowledge.