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HR Professionals: Don’t Get Caught Without These Three Documents

Posted by Lauren DiChiacchio on Sep 5, 2013 2:27:00 PM

Employment Law, staffing services, HR help As a firm that provides HR Outsourcing services, we speak with a variety of clients some of whom are seeking complex services such as Compensation Benchmarking, HRIS Selection or Benefit Plan Administration. When we arrive to do our kick-off meetings, we often discover that documents fundamental to managing risk are nonexistent or incomplete.

As advocates for HR professionals, we hope that you are never sued. But in the overwhelming litigious society in which we operate, you simply have to be prepared and there are three documents that your attorneys and the courts will want to see in almost every employment lawsuit.

Job Descriptions

Small companies in particular don’t take the time to write formal job descriptions. When you have a small staff, you know what you need for each role and many times roles overlap because everyone is pitching in to get the job done.

However, if one of those employees files a claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a well-written job description that lists all the duties and functions of each position will go a long way in helping you defend against that claim.

Thorough job descriptions will provide details that explain a position is exempt or nonexempt. It will support claims that you could not hire a disabled person because there are no acceptable accommodations. So take the time to write up job descriptions and have them reviewed, it will go a long way in protecting you down the line.

Employee Handbook

If you don’t have an Employee Handbook – you need one. Why? Because in many states, the courts consider an Employee Handbook to be a binding contract, even if the employee relationship is at will. This vital tool will help protect your company against claims of unfair and/or inconsistent treatment and discrimination as well as other legal claims.

A successful Employee Handbook is written in a clear, understandable manner, and reflects the culture of the business. State and federal laws require that certain policies are included in the handbook. This means that you should take the time to learn about local and state requirements, as well as federal requirements to ensure you are protected.

Many state labor departments also have listings on their websites for employers about laws they must abide by when doing business in the state and these can be helpful in determining what to include in your Handbook.

The U.S. Department of Labor website is a great resource to help you understand and keep abreast of federal laws that impact workplace issues.

There are a few subjects that every Employee Handbook should cover:

"At Will" Statement. PA and NJ are “at will” employment states as are many others. So why are the courts jammed unfair termination cases? Because the employer/employee relationship was not clearly defined.

Your Handbook should clearly communicate the employment relationship and that by signing the handbook this does not make any promises about continued employment.

Handbook Supercedes all other Policy Documents. Your Handbook should be clear that this document represents the final word on corporate policies. So if there is a policy document floating around that contradicts what’s in the Handbook, you have clearly articulated that the Handbook is the final word.

Harassment and Discrimination Clauses. These two areas make up a substantial amount of employee related lawsuits, so it’s important to really spend time detailing your anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies. Remember that many federal policies such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) change so it’s important to revise your handbooks to accommodate the changes.

Employee Acknowledgment Page. As we noted previously, in many states, the courts view the Employee Handbook as a binding contract. Therefore, in order to verify that your employees are aware of the policies outlined in the Handbook, it should include an acknowledgment page that employees sign and return. This page should be detachable so that once it’s signed, it can be placed in the employee’s personnel file.

Performance Reviews

Performance reviews can really go a long way in protecting you again unlawful termination cases. In fact, many employment lawyers believe that performance evaluations can make or break their defense of an employer against employee claims, charges and lawsuits.

Performance Evaluations document poor performance, disciplinary action and other employee problems. They will show that the organization took steps to help the employee improve with a documented employee plan. If the employee fails to meet the organization's expectations, then the performance review provides documentation that the organization had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons to terminate an employee.

Running an HR Department is a rigorous job with a lot of complexity. Putting these three documents in place can help you sleep better at night knowing you have taken steps to protect your organization against future lawsuits.

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Staffing Plus is a premier healthcare staffing firm that provides temporary, per diem, temp-to-hire and permanent Staffing Solutions for Behavioral Health, Education, and Healthcare settings. We have leveraged decades of experience to assist organizations with the challenges of managing their HR and Recruiting needs.