Weekly HR News
How Can Cities Prevent Employment Lawsuits?
First and foremost, cities need to know the laws that are applicable to them as an employer. This includes federal, state and local laws, as well as the information contained within your personnel policies. As an employer, you need to keep yourself educated as to what you can and cannot do within the workplace.
Does the need to stay on top of employment laws mean that your employees know more about employment laws than you? No, but what usually happens is that employees who feel unfairly treated or wronged by the employer will call their attorney. Once retained, the attorney can dig deeper to find legal violations they can use to pursue a lawsuit.
To avoid these costly situations, look for signs that you may have a toxic workplace, such as highly stressed employees, low morale, increased absences, employee burnout, high turnover rate, negative feedback and lack of employee loyalty. Once identified, take a look at those departments and create a strategy on how to tackle the issues. Make sure your supervisors are receiving training on how to be effective supervisors and how to implement personnel policies. If you have a policy on performance evaluations, make sure that those doing the evaluating are trained on how to do this and that they are being done as scheduled.
In many cases, unhappy employees are under the control of a manager or supervisor who does not have the skills to manage. All it takes is one bad supervisor who harasses an employee to the point of quitting, and you have a lawsuit. This becomes a much worse situation when you know about it and do nothing. If you know of employees that are working within such a department, do something about it now. Get the supervisor training or take employment action against them in order to get a handle on the situation.
The next issue is money. Salaries, whether we like it or not, are what employees use to measure their worth. Make sure that your employees are being paid according to your pay and classification plan. If you give merit raises based on performance evaluations, be certain that supervisors are doing the evaluations correctly and giving accurate information about the employee’s performance. An employee who finds out that they are being paid significantly less than other employees (and remember this is subject to open records) can lead to that toxic environment discussed above. And, doing performance evaluations incorrectly can lead to claims of discrimination and wrongful termination.
Lastly, there are many issues when rules or policies and procedures are not enforced equally. Employees very quickly pick up on favoritism, and when this affects those within a protected class, you can find your city in a lawsuit. When disciplining employees for violating your policies, make sure all employees, in all departments, are being disciplined in the same way. Be certain everyone knows what your policies and procedures state, and have them sign an employee handbook acknowledgement every time a change is made to the policy.
Juries seem to favor employees when a bad workplace is allowed to fester. The financial cost to the employer can be high, but don’t forget that the employee morale costs can be equally as devastating.
For questions on this or other personnel matters, contact Andrea Shindlebower Main, KLC personnel services specialist.