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Hiring, Firing, and Everything in Between

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In today’s world, understanding the law of managing a workforce is vital to avoiding needless legal entanglements. From hiring, to evaluating, to counseling, and—when circumstances require it—to terminating employees, requires understanding how to approach these tasks both effectively and legally.

The process starts with making the best hiring decisions, and that means carefully defining the job itself. In today’s world, job descriptions are a must, and they should be reviewed from time to time to ensure they are current and accurate. The job description helps a manager articulate what will be expected of the successful candidate, as well as distinguishing between essential and non-essential functions (a feature of the Americans with Disabilities Act). What will be the job conditions? Outside? Inside? Clean? Dirty? Is special technical knowledge a pre-requisite? Amy particular physical requirements, such as the ability to lift certain weights? What interpersonal skills will be required? Will there be customer contact? Vendor contact? Access to trade secrets or confidential materials?

Most employers use an application form or accept resumes, and that’s a good place to start in evaluating a candidate. Obviously, you will look for relevant background information and job skills. But also consider how the application or resume (whether online or on paper) is completed. Is every question answered, and completely? Does the application or resume seem as if it’s from someone who really wants the job you’re offering?

Interviewing applicants often intimidates managers because they’ve all been taught what not to say, the questions they can’t ask. But remember that an interview is really just a conversation with a purpose. Let the applicant do most of the talking—you’ll learn so much more. One question you can always ask is, why does the applicant want the job? There’s no correct answer but the replies you receive will often lead you to more questions and more dialogue, with the opportunity to learn more about each applicant.

Of course, there are caveats to bear in mind as well: be consistent with your hiring practices, never belittle or embarrass a candidate, take your time in hiring—try not to be rushed. And never hire a warm body!

Performance evaluations are key to maintaining a productive workforce. Everyone wants to know how they’re doing. Evaluations help managers and employees understand how the employee is working against expectations and how needed improvements can be made. Employee input is critical. Don’t let an evaluation become a mere scorecard, or allow a form to dictate the process. In fact, evaluations should occur constantly—the best managers are always providing performance feedback to their employees.

Good supervision is another key to successfully managing a workforce. Make sure supervisors are fair, never arbitrary or showing favoritism in their treatment of their subordinates, and that they treat their people with respect and dignity. Empower supervisors to solve problems, and to advocate on behalf of their people.

Employees like to know what’s going on in their organizations. Effective employee communications foster positive employee relations. Too often, we unnecessarily keep employees in the dark about business developments. Err on the side of being more inclusive rather than less so in sharing with employees. When implementing changes in job duties, transferring employees, etc., give employees plenty of advance notice, and consider providing time for their input into such decisions. Knowing that you involve them in making business decisions will pay off in terms of employee loyalty.

Unfortunately, and inevitably, discipline and even termination of employees will become necessary. Counseling employees is an opportunity to correct behavior and improve performance. Strive for consistency in how work rules are applied; make sure similarly situated employees are treated in a similar fashion. Take into account an employee’s work record and tenure when making disciplinary decision. Most importantly, make sure you have all the facts, and that includes making sure you have heard the employee’s side of the story. Resist the urge to act immediately. You can always fire someone but it’s awfully difficult to un-fire an employee.

If you have to terminate, do so in a manner to maintain the employee’s dignity and respect. Do it in private, at the end of a day if possible. Avoid the walk of shame, the escorted walk off the premises. Arrange for COBRA and unemployment benefits in advance if possible. Be truthful with the employee. Carefully document every step of your investigation and ultimate decision. Think about whether legal advice is needed.

Finally, consider having an experienced employment lawyer review your human resources procedures—recruiting, your application form, onboarding, disciplinary procedures, your employee handbook—to make sure your legal i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.

Brooke Duncan

Posted In: Legal, Management

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