I began my career in Human Resources in May 1979 as a summer intern in the labor relations department of the Midwest Steel Division of National Steel Corporation and was admitted to practice law in Indiana in October 1980…so, around 40 years of working in HR and/or legal roles involving HR matters. The first 16 years in industry began with Midwest Steel to ending with Miles Labs / Bayer. Then, I spent 6 years at the University of Notre Dame, 11 years at May Oberfell Lorber, 5 years at Saint Mary’s College and returned to MOL in June 2017. We all can learn from colleagues and mentors over the course of our careers…I know I have.
There are several topics that I think my clients would benefit from giving serious thought to:
1. Communications: Many of the issues I have dealt with over 40 years were due to poor communications…issues that were avoidable. Here are my thoughts:
- Between management – Management needs to be on the “same page”. An organization cannot be successful if the management is not all pursuing agreed up on goals based upon common facts. It is up to leadership to set out expectations and provide support to achieve the goals…and “how” to achieve the goals.
- Between management and employees – Management needs to provide employees the information the employees need to perform their jobs and the rules that need to be followed. In management doesn’t, who will?
- Between employees – Employees need to be allowed to and instructed in “how to” communicate with each other. Good communications skills are not necessarily second nature to all people. In today’s workplace where working in teams is more widespread, more than ever employees have to be able to successfully communicate with each other…and, where needed, management needs to teach and assist employees to develop the skills for good communications.
- Throughout the organization – Management needs to be transparent and communicate effectively. If management does not develop good messaging, then rumors and incorrect information will fill the vacuum.
2. There Are No Secrets:
- One should assume that EVERYTHING is discoverable in a legal proceeding…this includes documents, e-mails, texts, videos, voice mails, notes, etc.
- NO conversation is immune to discovery just because the parties to the conversation agree it is “confidential”. There are a few possible exceptions such as the attorney – client privilege.
- Once you know something, you know it. You can’t pretend you don’t.
- When under oath, failure to tell the truth is perjury…
3. Don’t Ignore Things:
- The old saying that “ignorance is bliss” is not a good saying. No good things result from being ignorant. Don’t purposefully ignore things because “I don’t want to know”.
- You may place something you learn about “down the list” of things to do, but the issue still needs to be addressed.
- Don’t ignore things because the person involved is a friend, a member of management, etc. This usually comes out later and causes additional problems/issues.
- Set the proper example in accordance with the employer’s culture/values and with legal compliance in mind.
4. Document, Document, Document!
- Nothing is “off the record”.
- Keep good, accurate records.
- In particular, counselling and progressive discipline must be documented.
- H.R. should be trained in good documentation practices and then H.R. should train all levels of management.
5. Counselling and Descipline:
- What is the purpose? To correct behaviors? To ensure accountability? To punish?
- Be consistent throughout the organization.
- No “special deals”.
- Document…if it isn’t in a document, a third party may not believe there was counselling/discipline.
- Always provide a copy of any counselling/disciplinary document to the employee involved.
6. Treat Everyone With Dignity and Respect:
- It is the right thing to do.
- This includes EVERYONE…no matter their role, title, pay grade, etc.
- If this was a non-negotiable part of an organization’s culture, there would be fewer employee issues.
Human Resources – the “people” issues – is a great area to work in. HR has a direct effect on the “bottom line”. It begins with who is hired and how the skills and abilities of those people will benefit the organization. It continues during the time people are part of the organization until they leave (and sometimes after that). In many organizations, employees are the “competitive advantage”. Dealing with the people issues can be rewarding and is rarely dull! Keep up the good work!
This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.