Years from now when I retire and look back on my career in HR I think I’m only going to be surprised about one thing. It won’t be how crazy some employees can be, or dumb things supervisors have said to employees or even the shocking employee relations issues I’ve dealt with. The one thing will be how totally comfortable I’ve become in dealing with lawsuits and potential lawsuits! If you really thing about it, most people in the world are not comfortable with lawyers. Just as HR Pros are looked at like the Grim Reaper in many organizations – no one wants to see the lawyer’s number pop up on their caller ID! Combine the Lawyer and HR Pro together and you have most employees worst nightmare.
I’ve gotten to the point now in my career where I actually try and beat employees to the punch. Here’s how it normally goes: Employee is either being terminated, or had a boss be a little too touchy or somehow slipped in the parking lot on a dry sunny day and HR gets a call/visit that sounds something like this:
Employee: “Yeah, well, ‘we’ve’ got a problem!”
HR Pro: “Really!? What problem do ‘we’ have?”
Employee: “Jill took my stapler and told me my ‘Boo’ is sleeping with Mary.”
HR Pro: “And…”
Employee: “And! And that’s stealing and I’m working in a ‘hospitable’ work environment!”
HR Pro: “Hostile.”
Employee: “I’m not being “Hostile”! Oh, you’re against me to – I see how this is. I know my rights! I don’t want to have to get ‘others’ involved but I will.”
HR Pro: “Others. Oh, you mean a lawyer?” (I like to act like I’m surprised and that thought had never come to me that they might go this direction.) “Tell you what – I think you’re right on. Have your lawyer contact me immediately so we can start working through some of these details, like how another employee stole your work issued stapler and how your “boo” is sleeping with Mary.”
That usually ends the conversation right there.
The fastest way to get an employee off ‘Lawyering-Up’ is to push them to ‘Lawyer-Up’. The reality is for HR Pros – either way – you will either need to Lawyer-Up or you don’t, depending on the details.As an HR Pro I’ve become very comfortable with this issue. I think about 100% of the time when I hear from an employee that they are “going to call their attorney”, I try and tell them that is a really good idea. I encourage them constantly to seek legal advice. Why? Because here’s another thing I’ve learned from being an HR Pro – the majority of attorneys will tell people to take a hike when they have nothing. Honestly. We tend to think lawyers will sue for anything, but in most employment cases they won’t. 99 out of 100 times you have an employee seek legal advice – you’ll never hear from them again because some attorney will tell them – “You have no case.” The one case you do hear from – is probably the one you already knew you had problems with already.
Yep – being told “I’m going to sue you”, who knew someone could ever hear those words and not feel nervous!? Only HR Pros and Lawyers.