As an HR professional, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll have to deal with litigation in the workplace as some point – but what can you do to reduce the risk? Here, employment lawyer Keri Bennett offers her advice to those of us looking to avoid a lawsuit.
1.Make sure all of your employees have a contract
“Even entry-level employees require a contract,” says Bennett. “Employers can sometimes be quite surprised at what can happen when an entry level employee is terminated. They still have common law entitlements – unless those entitlements are restricted by a contract.”
According to Bennett, employment contracts don’t have to be overly complicated – “A very simple one page contract is fine for many entry-level employees.” According to her, the most important thing to include is “a valid termination provision.”
Bennett also advises employers to revise old contracts when possible; “Whenever an employee changes roles or gets promoted, that’s an opportunity to revisit the contract to see if it needs updates based on changes in the law.”
2.When in doubt, investigate.
“Consider whether there are sufficient internal skills for an individual to investigate a particular issue or if the company needs to reach out externally to undertake the investigation,” says Bennett.
“If there [are] serious allegations of misconduct it’s worthwhile considering if that issue can be dealt with in-house or whether the HR professionals should reach out,” says Bennett. “Of course, there are sophisticated, highly trained HR staff who are perfectly capable of undertaking an investigation but there are still reasons you might want to farm it out.”
According to Bennett, even the most experienced HR professionals might benefit from turning to an external investigator to ensure there is no perception of bias, to alleviate any time-pressure and to ensure a thorough investigation that will stand up in court.
In some cases, while HR professionals are perfectly capable of conducting an investigation, they just don’t have the man power to do it.
It can be challenging to keep on top of documentation but, according to Bennett, “the time that issues are not properly documented can be the time that those same issues end up in litigation.”
“Memories fade and it can be very hard to prove what happened without documentation,” says Bennett.
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