While it is technically not a "legal requirement" I have long suggested that treating employees with respect is the best way to avoid employee lawsuits. Building on this thought I recently saw a couple of excellent posts from employment lawyers John Phillips and Jon Hyman concerning fairness as the Golden Rule of Employee Relations.
Treating others as you want to be treated is a concept that even young children understand. But while the concept is easily understandable employers still have a difficult time being fair. To this end, Phillips offers five areas of fairness where employers should concentrate their efforts:
- Appearance: does an employment action appear fair to an outside observer?
- Counseling: except in the most egregious of cases, was the employee told of a deficiency and given a chance to correct it?
- Consistency: are similar disciplinary problems handled similarly and to the same degree?
- Documentation: can you point to a performance review, written warning, a note in a personnel file, or some other contemporaneous piece of paper that supports the personnel decision?
- Rationale: was the employee given a reason for the decision, and was it the real reason?
As Hyman points out, juries are big on fairness. It is critical to remember that in a jury trial your jurors are likely to be employees rather than employers. Being fair will not only reduce the employment claims against you but increase your chances of success if you are sued.
So next time you deal with an employee disciplinary situation be sure to remember the Golden Rule of Employee Relations. It will make a difference.