As hiring picks up, it’s an excellent time to review your employment policies, practices, training and overall culture. In addition, it’s a great time to review your employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) as a safety net for mistakes and to protect against possible future litigation.
EPLI insures you against claims of things like discrimination (based on age, sex, race, religion, color and national origin), sexual harassment, wrongful termination, emotional distress and breach of contract. Your policy can also cover you for categories of discrimination that are specific to state or local laws.
If you haven’t established clear policies on these subjects, you need to. And once you have them documented, you’ll want to make sure you have a process in place to:
- Train new HR staff and managers on these policies.
- Reinforce the training on a regular basis.
- Have a process in place for post-incident practices: How do you investigate issues, and how do you document them?
- Build your overall company culture to support inclusiveness.
- Identify an HR partner your managers can consult with if they’re having a performance issue or struggling with a hiring decision.
- Establish HR as a true partner rather than “the police.”
We asked Lori Wolfe, director of HR at The Kansas City Art Institute and a long-time Miller Group client, to give us her perspective on this topic based on her HR career. She reminds us that well-intentioned managers make mistakes every day in what they say, do and write down. Even things as informal as calendar entries, post-it notes and water-cooler chat can be interpreted as discriminatory. “Most of the time, there’s no ill intent,” Wolfe said. “But small mistakes can come back to bite us, and unfortunately in these cases, our position with the organization, our job title and all of our good intentions provide no protection.”
Some of the most common mistakes Wolfe has witnessed in her HR career are well outside of any gross misconduct. Rather, they involve oversights such as not following the policy consistently, or not documenting issues properly before initiating a termination. Sometimes the topic is as simple as attendance. If you allow an employee to come in late for years and suddenly get fed up and terminate her or him, you may be vulnerable. Make sure you’ve clearly outlined attendance requirements, notified the employee of violations, put a correction plan in place and documented the entire process.
If you’re a small organization with slim HR resources, you’d be wise to educate yourself on discrimination laws or assign a member of your leadership team to take on that responsibility. There are many low-cost training tools and resources available to help you stay compliant and out of trouble. Just be reminded, as good as your EPLI may be, it’s the last step in the risk management process. As Wolfe said recently, “EPLI won’t save you from yourself.”
By Pat Murphy, CWCA, President, Commercial Division