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Along with the 21st century revolution in technology, there have been dramatic changes in human-resources management in every industry and profession.

This means there are many pitfalls to avoid in our evolving litigious society. Everyday it seems there are changes in law and societal norms.

You have tons of responsibilities in order to stay profitable, maintain employee morale and to avoid legal issues. Whew, it’s seemingly overpowering.

You know, of course, if you make a mistake there could be disastrous ramifications.

In general, bear in mind these emerging issues:

1. Teaching moments

First and foremost, it’s increasingly important to read and stay current on events in business.

When other companies and nonprofits make negative headlines, it’s an opportunity for you to learn and if necessary to implement improvements in policies and procedures.

As a starting point for a safety net, use Google Alerts for any or all the appropriate HR keywords. Plan carefully as it’s a long list of subjects.

This also means using the news events as teaching moments to educate your employees.

2. Handbook updates

Neither you, nor your company, and nor should your employees be relying on an employee handbook with illegal or antiquated policies. To avoid legal issues, make certain you have the best handbook values.

For your handbook, consider mandating arbitration to discourage frivolous complaints and lawsuits.

With all due disrespect for the legal profession, any time lawyers and juries are unnecessarily involved you can expect uncertainty.

Incidentally, companies that don’t have online employee handbooks are missing noteworthy opportunities in human resources.

3. Choosing words carefully

Whether you’re counseling one of your employees, documenting behavior and performance, or writing your handbook, be careful with your choice of words.

For example, a well-written set of performance goals work will help motivate employees and will help them focus better on their responsibilities. You can see 10 sample goal phrases here.

Avoid what an outside observer, such as judge, would consider to be “opinion.” So be specific about events and examples.

Times have changed. Above all, don’t use the word, “attitude.” You’ll be inviting legal trouble.

4. Gender bias

Actually, any form of bias or discrimination should be eliminated from your workplace, but gender bias has seeming been making more headlines.

ASAP, make sure to audit your benefits, policies and salaries to guard against gender bias. Continue to monitor your records. Make sure supervisors know to avoid gender bias.

These steps will help avert litigation or government involvement. But you need to do more to avoid EEOC discrimination complaints.

Besides, know that your employees surf the Internet and pay attention to news coverage about inequality.

5. Terminations

Even if immediate termination seems appropriate, in most cases take a deep breath, document events, and pause for strategizing.

Instruct your employee to leave and report to HR the next day. Then, give the employee the opportunity to explain any possible extenuating circumstances.

Keep in mind that if you’re forced to terminate workers, ask yourself the right questions.

6. Pre-emptive legal action

In other words, don’t wait until an event blows up in your face. You’ll be more productive and will save money overall, if you use your outside attorney as an advisor.

Hopefully, you develop an intuitive antenna for HR issues before they become a crisis. When you anticipate a problem, call your attorney and ask questions before a crisis develops.

It’s much less costly to avoid courtroom litigation. By warding off problems, you’ll avoid an expensive legal defense.

You’ll need an HR specialist. Generally speaking, selecting the right business attorney, talent and skill levels are among the crucial traits needed for your success. So, have the right attorney for your business.

7. Anger in discipline

One rule of thumb is that it’s never OK to get angry in disciplining employees.

Not only does it help keep your blood pressure low, you can discipline or fire workers without causing unproductive drama and legal hassles.

Civility is important. So be tough on problems but soft on employees.

Careful planning is necessary before you give an employee an appraisal or before you terminate a person. In difficult situations, it’s vital for you to say the right things.

8. Employment Eligibility Verification forms (Form I-9)

Asking for green cards creates a huge risk factor. Don’t ask a lawful permanent resident for a green card.

Instead, request to see a driver’s license or other documentation. And make sure your I-9 records comply with the federal government. That’s an important step in preparation for an unannounced visit from ICE.

9. Retention of documents

Think about your retention of records. There are, of course, laws for records you need to keep. Laws require certain records anywhere from one to 30 years.

To avoid possible mistakes by destroying employee records too soon, add two or three years to the required duration in your retention of documents.

If you aren’t able to supply relevant documentation, you’ll pay a heavy price.

In some cases, you’ll even be forced to give the job back to a nonperforming or toxic employee so use best practices to guard against legal risks.

10. Rules regarding tattoos

As the adage goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you have a rule regarding tattoos, avoid a mistake.

It’s not enough for your policy to inform employees that they can’t show “offensive tattoos.” Therefore, prohibit “visible tattoos.”

From the Coach’s Corner, related information:

Tips to Prevent or, if Necessary, Eliminate Employee Toxicity — From time to time, nearly every boss has to cope with an employee’s negativity. That’s annoying enough, but you’ve got a nightmare if toxic attitudes spread among the rest of your workers. Here are solutions.

HR: Is it Time to Rethink Your Marijuana-Testing Policy?  — For HR departments, it was once-unthinkable: Deleting Marijuana from the list of drugs in workplace drug-testing programs. But should you? And what should you do about your handbook policies?

Tips for Productive Meetings to Improve Performance — Here’s a checklist to engage your employees in energetic, inspiring staff meetings that will increase profits.

Legal HR Issues? Best Practices in Workplace Investigations — As an employer, one of your biggest nightmares can be issues involving your employees. There can be many reasons to conduct an investigation. “Action expresses priorities,” said Mohandas Gandhi. So you should act quickly.

10 Tips on Responding to EEOC Complaints — Despite all the court cases, warnings and complaints filed at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC complaints are a nightmare for management.

“The value of a business is a function of how well the financial capital and the intellectual capital are managed by the human capital. You’d better get the human capital part right.” 

-Dave Bookbinder



Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.