An Ounce of Prevention…the Old Adage Still Applies

I first wrote this blog post back in 2009, and lately I’ve been coming back to the concept of prevention in my practice more and more. So much trouble could be avoided not just by knowing about preventative strategies, but by hiring an experienced human resources consultant to enact them effectively. This is particularly important for small businesses without HR departments, for whom the cost of litigation could be disastrous. In the next few blog posts, I’ll be writing more in-depth about areas that need HR support: Hiring and Employee Selection, Proper Classification of Employees and Contractors, Performance Management, Managing Attendance and Time-off, and Termination of Employment. Stay tuned…

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It strikes me that many workplaces have a lot in common with the healthcare system.  If we’d only spend a little bit more money upfront on training supervisors, or conflict resolution (wellness, preventative medicine) we could spend SO MUCH LESS on litigation (surgery, hospitalization) and dramatically reduce loss of productivity due to unhappiness, conflict and miscommunication (pain and suffering).  However, just like medicine, it’s hard to dislodge those dollars you don’t absolutely have to spend, even when you understand that winning an employment discrimination or retaliation lawsuit on summary judgment can cost $50,000 to $100,000.

So what can employers do without spending much money that can have dramatic cost-reduction effects?  A few thoughts;

  1. Do a better job of hiring.  Every time there’s a job opening figure out what the person REALLY needs to do and be able to do and hire someone with those qualifications.  Pay attention to why people didn’t succeed in the job or left, and don’t repeat the same mistakes. Do background screening.  Effect?  Reduced turnover (try quantifying this if you haven’t). More productive employees.
  2. Don’t tolerate or ignore “jerks.”  Every workplace has those people who are bullies or just take up more time than anyone else. They simply aren’t worth it.  Deal with unacceptable behavior directly when it happens and fire them when their value is outweighed by the trouble they cause.  Effect?  Happier more productive coworkers.  Reduced likelihood of litigation by the jerk or those affected by his/her behavior
  3. Develop a conflict resolution program.  This doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive but find a way to allow employees to air their grievances before they turn into chronic problems.  The earlier in the life of a dispute it’s addressed, the less there is to deal with.  Effect?  Employees aren’t wasting work time harboring grudges, watching what “she” does next.  Avoiding litigation by dealing with little problems before they grow into big ones.  From a lawyer’s perspective, the more opportunity an employee has to complain the less credible he/she is when bringing a hostile environment claim about conduct that “always” happened.
  4. Listen to employees.  The old time suggestion box was a really good idea.  Not only do your workers actually have some really good ideas about how the place could be run more efficiently, they’ll be happier knowing they are valued.  Effect?  Some really good ideas and more productive employees.
  5. Train supervisors on employment laws.  My soapbox for years has been this:  how can we expect people promoted into management positions to comply with laws they don’t even know about?  It’s not just commonsense to understand the obligations under the Americans With Disabilities Act or the Family Medical Leave Act.  Yet the consequences of an illegal – even if well meaning – comment can be enormous.  Effect?  Improved compliance and reduced risk of litigation.