The Employer's Legal Resource: Avoid Employment Claims with Proper Training
At their core, newspapers are just like any other business. They provide a service to consumers and are paid for that service. But just like any other business, managing employees can be key to a happy and successful workplace.
Chris S. Thrutchley, an attorney with the law firm Doerner, Saunders, Daniel & Anderson, LLP, spoke at the 2013 OPA Annual Convention in Midwest City on June 13, 2013, about the importance of effectively managing your employees when it comes to matters of employee discipline, workplace disputes and termination.
"Most employment disputes that employers get hit with spring up out of the seed bed of conflict revolving around how to manage employee performance and behavior in a way that drives success and minimizes risk of employment claims," said Thrutchley.
Since the recession of 2008, there has been an explosion in employment claims. On average, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the average cost of one claim is $235,000.
While this figure takes into account class action lawsuits, something that most small Oklahoma papers have a small chance of ever facing, a garden variety claim can cost your paper anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000.
"Once you're hit with a claim, it's just a matter of how much it's going to cost you," said Thrutchley. "The best practice is to do all you can to avoid claims."
The easiest way for employers to avoid any sort of employment claims is proper training for anyone in a supervisory capacity in your business, according to Thrutchley.
Proper training not only helps you avoid the potential minefield of employment claims, it can also save you time, money and energy when dealing with the fallout.
"Even if you settle a claim with the EEOC, they require you to enter into a consent decree that mandates management training for all leaders in your organization," said Thrutchley. "Not only that, they require you to do that for successive years."
Many areas of employment law are also opening the door for personal liability claims against individual managers and supervisors.
To help avoid any sort of wrongful termination or discrimination claim, Thrutchley laid out his Five C's of effective Discipline.
Clearly communicate your expectations. Are your expectations crystal clear to your employee from day one? When it comes to matters of discipline, if you're not clear with your employees from the beginning, it can appear as unfair treatment from the viewpoint of a judge, jury or arbitrator.
Consistently follow policies and apply work standards. No employee should be treated differently in matters of discipline. If you handle matters consistently across the board, you can easily avoid the risk of a claim.
Carefully and strategically document expectations, disciplinary actions, performance deficiencies, policy violations, warnings, etc. "If you don't document it, it didn't happen," said Thrutchley.
Coordinate with senior management, HR or legal counsel. While your newspaper might not have a large managerial structure, make sure those in charge are all aware and supportive of your decision to terminate or discipline. This not only shows a thoughtful and objective decision making process by consulting others in your company, it also minimizes the risk of someone bringing forth a discrimination or retaliation claim.
Calculate cost/benefits of the decision to discipline or terminate. "Sometimes we have situations where even though we know there are risks, the cost of keeping somebody is greater than the benefit of cutting them loose and moving on down the road," said Thrutchley.
“If you apply those five principles to any performance and behavior issue you're dealing with it will go a long way toward helping you manage risk in a way that minimizes claims," said Thrutchley.