Employers often ask me the question of what steps can they take to stop employment litigation. My response usually begins with a warning that there is nothing an employer can do that will prevent a frivolous lawsuit. However, employers can control their actions and decisions, and by reviewing a few items on a regular basis, it can greatly reduce a company’s liability. Here are five steps employers can start with:
1. Implement an accurate and easy to use timekeeping system.
California law requires employers to track start and stop times for hourly, non-exempt employees. The law also requires employer to record an employee’s thirty-minute meal period. The time system needs to be accurate, and the employer needs to be involved in the installation and setup of the system. Do not simply use the default settings for the hardware and software. Understand what the system is tracking and how it is recording the data. Since the statute of limitations for California wage and hour violations can extent back four years, it is recommended that employers take steps to keep these records at least four years.
2. Keep employee handbook and other policies up to date.
Employers should periodically have their handbooks, operating policies and new hire packets reviewed to ensure they are current. Employers need to remember that a review of policies should extend beyond the handbook and should also incorporate a review of all other policies, pay practices, and documents that are given to employees when they are hired and at termination.
3. Document everything.
I cannot overemphasis the need to document what occurs in the workplace. Most importantly, employers need to document employee performance. It is all too often that a problem employee’s personnel file does not contain any type of documentation about his poor performance. Lack of documenting makes it much harder to prove the business reason behind a termination for poor performance.
4. Consider hiring a knowledgeable HR professional.
An experienced HR professional will allow the president or other executives in the company to focus their time and energy in their core roles. In addition, it is helpful from a structural and managerial perspective for the employees in an organization to know exactly who to go to for HR information or complaints. A human resources professional with experience in handling workplace investigations and dealing with employee complaints is very valuable to a company. Let’s face it, no matter how well you run your company, there will be complaints. Having a proactive, knowledgeable professional assisting in the process of investigating and resolving the issues is instrumental to a successful company.
5. Get to know an employment attorney you can run issues by on a day-to-day basis.
You knew this was coming, but regardless of the unashamed self-promotion, employers should have counsel that is well versed in California employment law. California’s employment laws are very nuanced, and an attorney that has experience in this area will save the company not only in legal fees, but also in potential exposure. I have a client that says that when you have a problem with your eyes, you don’t go to your general practitioner. The same applies for advice on California employment issues – California employment law is unique. In addition, working with an employment lawyer on a routine basis is also a great way to see how he or she works and if the lawyer is compatible with your operations. It is better to find counsel you trust early on, instead of discovering that you don’t get along with your counsel in the middle of defending a lawsuit.