Avoid Legal Problems

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As employees’ rights are becoming increasingly well known and as employees are becoming more and more aware of their rights in the workplace, employers cannot afford to ignore or completely mishandle employment problems.

Employee Rights

As employees’ rights are becoming increasingly well known and as employees are becoming more and more aware of their rights in the workplace, employers cannot afford to ignore or completely mishandle employment problems. A botched employment situation can cost the employer a lot of money in legal expenses and possible fines or compensation if found guilty after the matter is settled in a lawsuit. It does not take much for an employer to stir himself away from legal trouble with his employees. All it takes is some common sense and the basis of know-how keeping employees happy in the workplace. Employers do not always need someone professional to tell them what to do to protect themselves from legal problems with employees.

Respect

Treat your workers with respect because everyone feels it when he or she is deprived of his or her dignity or when humiliated for petty things which do not matter all that much. Workers obviously do not like when they are treated in ways they consider mean are likely to seek some form of revenge on their employers. Some workers are immature enough to take the law into their own hands and pay back their employer by doing something that will hurt him/her or the business. This is downright silly because apart from the fact that the worker will be getting absolutely nowhere by doing these things, disciplinary and criminal proceedings may be instituted against the worker for breaking the law. A few years back, for example, the police charged a man in court who was accused of stealing items from his workplace because his boss did not pay his employees on time.

The man obviously lost the case because as soon as he told police: “I took them because he didn’t pay me”, the prosecution said two wrongs don’t make a right and the man was given a suspended jail term. Another way – and many choose this avenue – is suing an employer, either directly by filing a complaint with the authorities such as the Courts or the Ombudsman or through the union representing the worker. If an employer shouts at or completely degrades a person for poor performance at the workplace, or if the employer publicises a personal problem one of his employees has and confided in him about, then the employer can expect trouble.

Communication

This is a very important policy at the workplace in order to have and sustain a good, healthy relationship with your employees. The best way to ensure a good communication level is by adopting an open door policy where employees can discuss any problem they would like to talk but more importantly, however you will have to put this policy into practice.

Undoubtedly, this will help you find out about workplace problems long before they reach that level where they cannot be solved. It is very important to nip these problems in the bud rather than wait for them, without knowing, to reach exaggerated levels. Such a policy will also show your employees that you value their opinions and want to know everything that is going on in the workplace. Through this system, you are showing your employees that you care, a very important component of positive employee relations.

Consistency

Consistency is an important element in order to retain your employees’ trust at all times. It is important to apply the same standards of performance and discipline with all your employees and not have special proceedings for the selected few. Workers quickly sour on a boss who plays favourites or who punishes scapegoats. Successful discrimination lawsuits start when a boss, manager or direct superior treats employees in the same situation differently. In a court case in the United Kingdom, a manager was fined and scolded for treating two workers in the same situation differently. One day, John (name has been changed) asked his boss to leave an hour early from work in order to attend a dentist’s appointment he had fixed three months earlier. His boss immediately told him that it would not be a problem and that the hour’s leave would be reduced from his annual leave allowance.
However, a few weeks later, Joanna (name has been changed), John’s colleague, asked the same boss for a hour off from work to go to her gynaecologist for a regular check up which takes place every six months. The boss told her she could not leave early from work and that if she wanted to go to her gynaecologist, she would have had to take the whole day off. This is a typical example of inconsistency, especially because the boss had no obvious, good and apparent reason why he was not allowing her to go to her doctor.
Regular evaluations: A few months ago, we dealt with the importance of performance appraisals and how these are important for both the employee as well as the employer. It is essential that employees knows where they stand at work and just as importantly, for an employer to know where he/she stands with respect to his/her employees. Performance appraisals are certainly essential too for the effective management and evaluation of staff. Appraisals help develop individuals, improve organisational performance and feed into business planning.
In terms of avoiding legal trouble with employees, performance evaluations are an employer’s early warning system regarding employment problems and also proof that he/she has acted reasonably, in case the matter ends up in court.

Take job-related decisions

It is very important that every decision taken by the employer at the workplace is guided by job-related criteria rather than based on the workers’ race or gender. Discrimination at work is not given the attention it deserves and occurs when someone is treated differently because of a specific characteristic, such as the village they hail from, their gender, weight, height, hair colour and style, religious beliefs, the political party they support, any disability they may have, and the list goes on, and on.

Ensure that your personnel decisions are based on the performance of the business and strictly business-related, decisions that make economic sense and avoid legal trouble with employees for discrimination, violation of privacy and wrongful termination of employment.

Sound policies

An employee handbook is an indispensable workplace tool that will help an employer to communicate with his or her employees, manage the workforce better and protect the business from lawsuits. However, once adopted, these policies must be followed and respected by all employees. If the rules are bent for one worker, the same has to be done for all the other workers who ask for something and who need the rules to be bent for their benefit. Moreover, it must be stressed that if the rules are bent; employees will not take these rules seriously. Let us take a practical example. If a warden sees a car parked on a double yellow line and just tells the driver to remove the car instead of booking him, this warden has to apply the same rule when he meets another car parked on a double yellow line one corner up the road. Basically, the concept of two weights two measures must be abolished and bosses must be careful when applying rules at their workplace.

Keep good records

If a worker decides to sue, the employer will be required to testify in court about what happened, when and how. However, when testifying in court you must be able to prove that the version you are giving is accurate and therefore, the correct version. In order to make the best case, careful, accurate records must be kept of every major employment decision taken with regards to each and every worker. This form of record should include performance evaluations, disciplinary warnings and all other proceedings taken.

Once an employment problem comes to the attention of the employer, he/she must resist the temptation of hiding their head in the sand. Action needs to be taken almost immediately before the situation turns sour. It is also important to remember that discretion is the word – loose lips about employee problems are a sure-fire way to bring the law down on an employer’s head. An employee could sue for defamation or could haul an employer into court for causing emotional distress, for creating a working environment that is hostile and for poisoning prospective employees against them. The stakes are high so it is of utmost importance that employers, managers and superiors are protected by providing information on a need-to-know basis only.

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