Monday, August 16, 2010

The Fundamentals of Smooth Sailing

We all hope for smooth sailing: brilliant marketing, substantial profits, equipment that works, secure facilities, and happy employees and customers.

It looks like I'm enjoying smooth sailing in this photo, but I'll tell you a secret: I wasn't sailing alone. Captain Dave was keeping track of the depth in the channel, Admiral Janet was preparing hors d'oeuvres (no sexism going on here - she can trim the sails as well as anyone, but she also happened to work miracles in the galley). My husband was helping with each tack.

It's no surprise that a business, like a well-run ship, requires many hands on deck (okay, I'm done with the nautical lingo, I promise). The problem I often see is a lack of coordination, because the business of running the business gets in the way.

Your floor manager knows it is important to document every time Albert comes in late, but he doesn't because the receptionist is sick and he spent half an hour on the phone with various temp agencies to find a substitute. Your office manager mentioned the company is past due for a refresher on harassment training, but you finally got that big contract you were hoping for, and the deadline is looming.

And then, when Albert is terminated for yet another late arrival, he files a claim with BOLI alleging racial discrimination and harassment. Now, you have no documentation that he's not being singled out because of his race, and no proof that you've taken steps to prevent and address harassment (a key element of your defense).

Here's my advice: schedule some time - put it on your calendar as if it was a Very Important Client Meeting that you absolutely positively can't miss - to establish (or refine) the fundamental processes for coordinating your employee relations efforts. (And though it sounds self-serving, get your lawyer involved in that meeting!)

1. Create a log, with pre-printed columns, for incidents (complaints, absences, etc.). That way, all a supervisor has to do is dash off a quick note on a pre-printed form. More extensive documentation can come later, if necessary.

2. Check your posters: do you have all the required employee postings?

3. Get your employee handbook updated at least every two years (a few months after each legislative session). It's a tedious process, but absolutely crucial.

4. Create a leave request form to be used ahead of time and after the fact (for unexpected illness), that allows the employee to note if the absence is or may be covered by medical leave laws.

5. Make sure timesheets or other payroll documents require employees to sign off that the time is accurate, that they've received all required rest and meal periods (if applicable), and that they've reported any problems with their schedule, timecard, etc.

6. Set up an exit interview process that documents employee complaints and ensures you have fulfilled all obligations related to termination (continuation insurance notification, final paycheck on time, etc.)

7. Create an easy-to-use procedure for reporting complaints (such as harassment), and a step-by-step process for responding to complaints - and then make sure all employees are aware of the procedure (get a signed acknowledgment).

Even the best planning won't avoid all storms and squalls, but you can take steps to maximize your chances of coasting serenely into the future (sorry, I couldn't resist).

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