It isn’t any secret that employment laws are constantly changing and employers need to keep up. Take last year as an example. As my colleague, Maureen James, wrote in this BusinessWest article, in 2019 there were at least seven notable changes or events that impacted employers and how they run their businesses in Massachusetts. Human resource professionals are good about staying up to speed by seeking counsel, reading information, and attending seminars when needed; after all, it is part of the job. But unless you offer training for your supervisors, that probably isn’t the case with your entry-level or even mid-level supervisors, which exposes your business to significant legal risk.
I’m sure you have heard, or maybe even read my blog, about the important role proper documentation plays in defending and protecting a business. But, do all of your supervisors understand that? Have they been trained on what to include? Do they have a regular practice and procedure in place for documenting? Cases rise and fall for employers based on documentation. In some cases, it simply doesn’t exist and then there is no evidence, other than a supervisor’s testimony, that a conversation or another event took place. In other cases, the documentation exists, but it isn’t complete or is missing important information. Good documentation is an important part of an employer’s defense in a lawsuit and your supervisors need to know what that entails.
You also know that a cornerstone to defending a case is that a business has enforced its rules consistently to all persons, including the person bringing the lawsuit. But, do the supervisors who enforce those rules know it? Supervisors need to understand the repercussions and have the potential consequences, including individual liability, explained to them in order to understand just how important it is.
And, sometimes a supervisor’s actions or inactions can lead to wage and hour mistakes, too, and you may never know about it until someone brings a lawsuit and it is too late. From changed timesheets to instructing employees not to list hours worked over 40 because they did not have prior approval to do so, the potential wage and hour issues are there. In Massachusetts, wage and hour violations carry a hefty penalty, including an award of three times the damages, attorney’s fees, and costs to any successful plaintiff. And, in most cases, a plaintiff does not bring a case on his/her behalf only, but rather seeks to represent all similar employees in a class action.
These topics are just the tip of the employment law iceberg that supervisors need to learn about. How to handle complaints of harassment, absences related to a serious health condition or a disability, sick leave absences, potential unionization efforts, discipline and performance reviews, and more comes to mind as well. A supervisor’s mistakes, missteps, or lack of understanding that an action, or inaction, may be a problem, can cost your business in more ways than one. While a business may have to pay its attorney’s fees and costs to defend a lawsuit, it also might have to pay a judgment and a plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and costs. And, if that isn’t enough, whether you succeed or not in a lawsuit, the company’s reputation can be harmed in the interim.
So, what should you be doing to limit your legal risks? Employers should invest in annual training for all supervisors and consider training new supervisors as soon as possible. A three- to four-hour training could make the world of difference for your business.