Every Company’s Most Important Asset
As we look forward to the long Labor Day weekend, it is important to remember that the people who work for a company—the employees, independent contractors, officers, and board members—are the company’s most important asset. Without them, nothing gets done. While Drones and self-driving cars may ultimately reduce the raw number of employees in some sectors, technological advances have also made each employee that much more important. Nurturing a company’s human resources is critical for any company’s success and this includes how an employer addresses individual performance and conflicts in the workplace. My experience as an employment lawyer has taught me that there are some basic rules that employers would be well-advised to follow when dealing with problems in the workplace.
First, do not discipline or terminate one of your people for poor performance if you have not counseled that person in an effort to improve their performance. I would say that about half of the employment lawsuits that I handle are because a worker was disciplined or discharged without any real process having been followed to let that worker know that he or she was failing to perform as expected. Often these employees feel completely taken off guard and that they have been treated unfairly, a feeling that makes them more likely to sue.
Second, shut down the game playing and rumor mongering. In handling investigations and litigation for clients, I read a lot of emails. I believe the people who wrote these emails never thought someone like me would be reading them. It is amazing the pettiness and the vindictiveness that comes out when people discuss their fellow workers in emails. Workers who have access to your email system should receive frequent training on the proper etiquette of communications. There are folks out there who, for whatever reason, similar to a popular character in an epic fantasy series, have a list of the fellow workers to whom they would like to do harm. That type of behavior has no place in a properly functioning workforce and should not be tolerated.
Third, do not let issues simmer until they come to a boil. I have been involved in a number of investigations where the alleged wrongdoing was not significant, but because it was the subject of discussion for a long time, its importance grows out of all proportion to reality. Often in these investigations, our report indicates that the underlying matter could have been addressed easily. The fact that no one stepped up to do so reflects a more fundamental problem with workplace management. Make sure that your workers know how to report issues to the proper people in your company, and that those people designated to receive such reports know how to handle them or to report them to others in the company who do.
Following these three basics of the workplace could avoid a lot of turmoil. Yes, it may reduce my caseload, but after 31 years of practice as an employment lawyer, I am sure that I can find something to do with my leisure time. Enjoy the weekend and come back to the workplace with these three lessons in mind.
This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.