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Top 5 Ways to Minimize Risk When Disciplining and Discharging Employees

January 23, 2018

I have never met an executive who does not have a vision for how their business should run and how their employees should conduct themselves. It is often this vision that has driven the executive and their company to success, sometimes against seemingly insurmountable odds. These lofty goals and ideals should drive, if not at least permeate company culture. Are you sharing your vision with your managers? Are they bought in? Are your managers sharing that same vision with your employees? Really?

Elizabeth Coonan of Greater Des Moines (DSM)-based BrownWinick discusses best practices for managing employee discipline and discharge decisions.


Best Practices to Reduce Liability

One way businesses communicate their vision and culture is through the use of written policies. These policies range from the simplistic to pure poetry. Perfect policies; the best ones allow employers flexibility to adapt to changing situations and still provide a basis to effectively guide workplace activity. Many companies with multi-level management provide their managers with training on how to administer these perfect policies. So, if the company has a perfect written policy — one that complies with the law, is flexible and provides adequate guidance to employees and managers while also consistent with the company’s vision and culture — isn’t that a good enough shield to defend the company against litigation? What if you also provide our managers and employees an occasional web-based training on harassment or drug testing? In a word, nope. To talk about best practices for reducing potential liability, you must first identify what makes employees want to sue their employers in the first place.

Is it ego? Is it inconsistency in the way a business applies its policies, perhaps favoring one subset of its workforce over another? Apathy? Bad management? Misguided dreams of securing riches on the part of the employee? A personality conflict? A desire to change organizational culture for those still employed? Is it a statutory violation?

The fact is that employees sue for a variety of reasons but one of the most prevalent is rooted in communication, or lack thereof. Free popcorn on Fridays won’t immunize you from risk if your management isn’t civil, communicative and operating within the bounds of the law.

Companies cannot control for every situation their business may encounter but there are certainly processes companies can put in place to help minimize the risk of strife in the workplace, or worse. 

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Beth Coonan

Beth Coonan is an employment and immigration attorney at the Davis Brown Law Firm. She helps businesses understand the complex legal system and implement policies and procedures to reduce legal risk. Beth is an active volunteer in the community with a focus on mental health and improving conditions for women and girls across Iowa. She serves on several nonprofit boards and advisory committees in her efforts to affect positive change in the community.