Human Resources professionals have a job that requires a great deal of effort – a good HR Manager will stay on top of developments in employment law; establish sound, consistent procedures for managing typical staff issues, such as leave requests, on-site injuries, and separation from employment; and cultivate good relationships between employees and management.  From the other side of the phone line, however, comes a wish list from an attorney’s perspective – what the Human Resources department should consider doing  to help minimize difficulty down the road and ensure as successful an HR year as possible.

1.         Document employment decisions thoroughly and dispassionately

If an employee or former employee brings suit against the company, the decisions made that affected the employee will be scrutinized. When that occurs, consistent, fact-based documentation of the basis for each employment decision is an employer’s saving grace. Good documentation creates a good defense, and can even end lawsuits before they start.

2.         Review and revise your employee handbook

Each and every year, the HR department should review the employee handbook and any other company policies affecting employees.  Not only do laws change constantly, but so do the ways companies do business, due to new technologies and economic changes.  A routine annual review of your employee handbook will ensure that your policies remain consistent with your practices, even if the changes in a given year don’t require an actual revision.

3.         Conduct training and provide a reminder of the company’s non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies

It is a terrific idea to have an annual training or reminder of the company’s critical policies, which include its non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.  In order to maintain a legal defense to certain claims, it is important not only to have such a policy, but to enforce it and make sure employees are aware of the policy.  Not only do these trainings and reminders reinforce the importance of your policies to management – your first line of defense against this type of workplace problem – regular trainings and reminders provide evidence of maintenance and enforcement of such a policy.  HR staff should make sure this is occurring on a regular and consistent basis.

4.         Maintain consistent procedures for investigations into complaints of discrimination or harassment

Even where appropriate policies are in place, and where they are communicated adequately to staff and management, inconsistency in the application of these policies can be a big problem in later litigation.  In order to show fair application of policies, consistency cannot be overrated. Every HR department should have a clear set of procedures it follows every time in order to investigate discrimination and harassment claims.  Also, always properly and thoroughly document investigations.  (See the first item on this list).

5.         Ensure personnel files are complete and well-maintained

If an employee files a charge of discrimination or sues, their personnel file will undoubtedly be relevant to the dispute, and will be requested during the discovery process. Ensuring that personnel files are maintained in a thorough, consistent manner in accordance with a standard practice, and that they are stored in a secure area, will serve your company well in litigation.

Stay tuned for Part 2.