By Karen Bender, SHRM-SCP, CEBS
As an HR professional, you have a few irons in the fire most, if not all, of the time. Are you wondering how to make your life less stressful in 2019? Would it make a difference if your management team were better trained? Would you have fewer employee complaints? Fewer fires to put out? Fewer legal compliance concerns? Would you sleep better at night?
Unfortunately, a company’s untrained management team can create an additional burden for the HR professional. Making statements or taking actions that are inappropriate - or downright illegal – can generate nightmares for HR due to the legal implications. Oftentimes, the offending leader is not intentionally crossing the line; sometimes they just don’t know where the line is. Most likely, they do not know that they have personal
liability for some of the things they do. That’s right…they can be sued as individuals.
For 2019, does it make sense to prioritize training your leaders, from supervisors to CEO’s? An investment in developing their skills could pay off in many ways. First, the knowledge of the law, what it is appropriate to do in different situations, may save the company embarrassment, extra work, and legal fees. Second, those with legal liability for non-compliance with the laws will appreciate having this knowledge – before they get sued for doing their jobs. Third, your work force should be happier, perhaps more engaged, if they feel they are being treated fairly. Finally, anyone who supervises will appreciate having this information as one more tool to help them grow and become better leaders.
Take FMLA for example. This is a complex area to administer in Wisconsin, given the dissimilarity between state and Federal law. Your supervisors can be sued (and so can you!) if you don’t do this right and subsequently interfere or otherwise deny employees a benefit they are legally entitled to. Due to the complexity of these laws, many HR people don’t understand the intricacies, making it harder for them to advise their leaders effectively.
Harassment continues to be a major issue, despite the #MeToo movement being over one year old and the laws being over 40 years old! Have your leaders had training? Do they know what to do to prevent issues at your site? Do they know what to watch for? Most importantly, do they know how to respond to a complaint of harassment? Prompt and proper responses to allegations of harassment are crucial to defending the company in a law suit. More importantly, the way a company reacts to indications of harassment are key to establishing and supporting a culture that does not tolerate harassment. Who wouldn’t want that?
Unfortunately, for the untrained and unaware, retaliation charges can add to the burden. A supervisor who does not know the laws and treats an employee improperly because of that, may create a situation where the employer is not only dealing with charges for a law violation, but also retaliation charges if bad decisions have made the matter worse. Employees can be successful with retaliation claims, even if the original claims are not supported.
Could your documentation and discipline processes be improved? How about knowledge of general employment law issues? If your leaders could use a lot of training in a variety of areas, consider setting up a schedule and doing one a quarter, one a year, or whatever your budget will tolerate. The cost of the training will be recouped when you avoid legal issues and raise the professional knowledge and demeanor of your leadership team. Good luck!