Legal issues will happen, whether we expect them to or not. The best thing a human resources department can hope for is to be well-prepared when it does happen. Having a general idea of what to expect in the event of a legal issue being filed is vital to ensuring all the right protocols are followed.
With specialized legal help and by ensuring all facts are properly and fairly documented, almost any HR-related legal issue can be successfully addressed. To help, 13 members of Forbes Human Resources Council who have been through similar matters outline the most critical steps any HR department should take when dealing with a legal issue.
1. Document And File Everything
When dealing with anything legal or court-related, you know you have to have the company’s records in order and have on record any incident reports, investigations and evidence properly recorded. This will show that the company had preventative systems in place, provided sufficient support or communication to all involved parties, and took appropriate action with all findings taken into consideration. – Angela Nguyen, Good Gummy
2. Be Impartial And Consistent
Before your methods or decisions get called into question, always practice compliance and make sound business decisions. If you can show impartiality and consistency, you already have an affirmative defense. If you have to go back and figure something out or make up an explanation, it’s already too late. Establishing a pattern of evenhanded decisions saves you countless hours down the road. – Regina W. Romeo, CPS HR ConsultingForbes Human Resources Council is an invitation-only organization for HR executives across all industries. Do I qualify?
3. Deal In Facts Only
Stick to the facts only when relating to legal issues. Thorough investigating, if needed, is critical to establish all of the facts. In the end, the factual information gathered will be what is leveraged to come to a resolution. Thorough documentation is very important here and will be needed should the legal issue escalate. – Charles Ashworth, Zendrive
4. Keep It Clear And Concise
Dealing with legal issues is about keeping it clear, concise and accurately dating the event and outcome of what has happened. Be neutral and don’t allow emotions to blur your perception. The more evidence you can give without distorting facts, the better it is for a concise outcome. – Tasniem Titus, Dentsply Sirona
5. Be Familiar With Applicable Laws
Issue-spotting is critical. You don’t have to know the answer, but what is really important is knowing that it is a legal issue so you can get help. Employment laws can be fairly complex so familiarizing yourself with applicable local laws is the best way to be able to spot an issue when it does arise. – Dustin Finer, Covetrus
6. Focus On The Issue
It’s easy to be overwhelmed when facing legal issues. Remember to always focus on the issue at hand. Seek legal counsel, gather appropriate documentation, focus on confidentiality, investigate anything still outstanding and craft a response in partnership with counsel. Resist letting emotion drive your actions or focusing on extraneous issues. – Jennifer Marszalek
7. Be Your Organization’s Own Worst Critic
As you review your stance and defense, be critical. If you can poke holes in your organization’s logic, policy or practice in reference to your case, so will a plaintiff’s attorney. Be honest about any questionable areas or pitfalls and prepare from that space. Be sure to share with any managers or employees involved in the preparation that you will be viewing it from this lens and explain why. – Rebecca Edwards, City of Concord, NC
8. Keep It Confidential
It may be tempting to bounce your thoughts or ideas with other co-workers on this specific legal issue, but that is fraught with dangers, especially when dealing with personnel-related legal issues. For one, you can come across as someone who cannot be trusted but more adversely, it may cause office culture issues. – Srikant Chellappa, Engagedly
9. Remember To Be Human
Start by treating people well to avoid legal issues. Always be careful what you put in writing. Remember that pretty much everything is discoverable in a legal proceeding. Don’t hesitate to invest in outside legal advice when it makes sense. And always remember to be empathetic — there is a human being with a real concern at the other end of any legal matter. – Tracy Cote, Zenefits
10. Ask Open-Ended Questions
Legal matters are tricky, and there is always more information than presents itself initially. Remember to ask open-ended questions, and even the most obvious questions to get people to feel comfortable and talk. Just getting people to open up will allow the story to unfold and be as complete as possible. And finally, reserve your judgment until there is more information on the table. – Diane Strohfus, Betterworks.com
11. Apply Business Etiquette
Early in my career, my mentor told me to never say or write anything that I would not be comfortable with being read back to me in a court of law. I believe this advice is critical whenever handling legal issues on behalf of yourself or any organization. It’s easy for emotional topics to draw passionate responses out of anyone, which can cause legal harm to yourself or the company you represent. – Dr. Timothy J. Giardino, Cantata Health & Meta Healthcare IT Solutions
12. Act Without Prejudice
Be sure to look at the facts as they are, not as you may wish them to be. Perception may be the truth. If truth is based on fact then you will have a level playing field. – Patricia Sharkey, IMI People
13. Check And Check Again
Check with your legal representation every time you have a question, or even to double-check something, just to be safe. Be sure that you’re documenting everything, following your legal team’s advice, and being both honest and appropriate. Everything you say (or type) can be used, so be careful that you’re avoiding any potential liability for yourself or your company. When in doubt, take time to check. – Courtney Pace, FedEx Employees Credit Assoc.