Managing employee relations is not for the faint of heart. Many matters that managers, business owners, and human resources professionals handle can be complicated — whether it involves hiring, counseling, or terminating. Every step of the employee life cycle requires a certain balance of expectation and understanding. Sometimes getting support is a necessity to ensure the right balance is struck, especially when taking into account federal, state, and local laws and regulations. So when should business owners or HR professions should contact an employment lawyer?
1. When making hiring decisions (including when drafting employment contracts)
Most businesses run with the support of staff, or employees, and in order to have those folks in those roles, it all begins with hiring. Hiring decisions can leave a business susceptible to legal risks and concerns though. How so? Decisions to interview or hire certain candidates may suggest discriminatory behavior, even if it is unintended. Indeed, interviews (whether in-person or virtually via Zoom) are often another way employers could land themselves in hot water with job applicants — what questions are you asking versus what questions should you be asking. The way job ads are written and posted, and the same is true for the way job offers and descriptions are drafted and presented, as well as the terms of employment agreements. Business owners and HR professionals would be best served by being proactive and getting ahead of potential issues by at least speaking with legal counsel regarding their intentions, decisions, and to review their application and interview process.
2. When counseling or disciplining an employee
Deciding to write-up an employee to counsel them or discipline them, even if the goal is to place them on a performance improvement plan, can become very contentious, even if that isn’t the intention. Few employees accept criticism well, which isn’t all that surprising as it is not a trait many people embrace. No one likes to hear negative comments, that’s just a fact. However, it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes employers need to counsel employees or discipline employees to see positive changes and results in their employees. The entire process from the conversation to the formal write-up should be done in a careful manner that protects the business while also making the employee want to change their behavior or performance, whatever the case may be. To ensure this is done correctly and all bases are covered, this is another point in time when contacting an employment attorney would be helpful.
3. When firing employees
As with counseling and disciplining, terminating an employment relationship is another trigger for needing the support and guidance of an HR attorney. Is this a contentious time? Yes, absolutely. As a result, if done with haste, then it could give the employee cause to file a Charge of Discrimination against the employer, or make another discrimination or retaliation claim.
4. When rolling out or updating company-wide employee policies and practices
Employment policies and practices are best served when company-wide, not on a case-by-case basis as that gives the employees cause to claim discrimination or retaliation. Making sure the company is complying with all the applicable laws and regulations is key though, otherwise the employer may be opening themselves up to future employee disputes. Decisions on how to roll these out, when and to what extent are all topics of conversation that can be had with your licensed human resources lawyer.
5. When defending the company in an administrative proceeding initiated by a current or former employee
No employer wants to ever find out that an employee filed a complaint or EEOC Charge against the business for some action (or inaction) that was taken against the company (in the employee’s perception). Once this occurs, it is best to hire a licensed employment attorney to navigate the defense and response to these matters, because going it alone can be tricky and in some cases more expensive then getting the help needed right out of the gate.
Seeking the counsel of an experienced HR lawyer at these junctures can make all the difference and provide support to those in that most important role of managing employees. Indeed, with an attorney with managerial and entrepreneurial experience HR Legal Logistics focuses on employment law and human resources law, serving Florida businesses and employers.