CXO

Tips for managers who want to avoid lawsuits

Dealing with performance problems with an employee is never an agreeable task, and it is easy to let emotions cloud your judgment. But here are some tips for making sure you cover all your bases.

Dealing with performance problems with an employee is never an agreeable task, and it is easy to let emotions cloud your judgment. But here are some tips for making sure you cover all your bases.

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I read recently about a case in which an older gentleman was suing a company for age discrimination as a result of his having been fired. This particular man, an IT project manager, was the oldest employee in his department and reported to a supervisor 13 years younger than he.

The court case took two years to be decided but ended, ultimately, with the company being acquitted. The reason the lawsuit went in their favor? They had followed the rules in hiring personnel and had documented every part of the dissatisfaction they'd had with the employee once it became a problem. They'd retained copies of the iterations of his performance improvement plan, and made and recorded their considerable efforts to help the guy improve over time.

For something as important as a possible lawsuit involving personnel, managers cannot take the lazy route. A recent article in Workforce.com outlines some steps every manager should take upon hiring an employee. Here they are:

Set expectations

From day one, you need to clearly and repeatedly communicate the objective expectations of all positions. You can't expect employees to meet the responsibilities of their positions if at the time of hire they don't clearly understand their ongoing targets and have a defined set of boundaries in terms of reporting relationships and roles.

Deal with problems

Address performance problems as soon as they arise. "One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is to allow an employee who is not meeting expectations to continue down the path of mediocrity."

Instill solid policies and procedures

Beyond looking to other companies or industry associations for best practices, look to legal counsel for assurance that policies and procedures are uniform across all employee groups and that exposure to discrimination claims is minimized. The benefits derived from bringing in an attorney at this stage far outweigh the costs associated with fending off discrimination claims, even those that are frivolous.

Consult with legal counsel when trouble arises

Whether you're developing a performance improvement plan, reassigning roles and responsibilities, or simply addressing dissatisfaction, legal counsel can help manage risk from a more emotionally removed perspective. The best money spent is money that avoids the escalation of problems into litigation.

Here are some more tips, aside from Workforce.com's:

  • Give annual performance appraisals. Do these at least once a year. Use them to document performance deficiencies versus your expectations or the actual job requirements.
  • Retain a record of the disciplinary action. Have the employee sign some sort of document outlining the conversation about any kind of disciplinary action. The document should specifically state that the employee is not admitting fault, but has been informed that his job performance is not satisfactory and why. Outline specific improvements / changes required in order for him or her to keep this job, and give clear deadlines as to when these improvements / changes must be seen.
  • Give benchmarks. It may take some time for the employee to change every unsatisfactory behavior. Don't set one deadline for all problems to be remedied. Give interim dates by which some skills will need to be mastered.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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