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Six Steps for Avoiding HR Headaches and Employment Issues on Your Practice

Regardless of whether you’re the managing partner of a firm with dozens of attorneys and support staff, or you’re a solo practitioner, relying on the assistance of a skilled paralegal, a legal secretary, and other assistants, there’s no getting around the fact that your firm needs to be prepared to handle employment issues. Fortunately, if you follow these six suggested tips for minimizing employee problems in your law practice, you can likely save yourself a great deal of time and frustration if and when an employment problem arises.

UPDATE YOUR EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK AT LEAST ONCE EVERY 2 YEARS
Law firms of all sizes would be wise to make sure that their employee handbook is updated at a minimum of once every two years. This will reduce liability by clearly outlining the firm’s vacation payout policy, the employee complaint process, disaster recovery plans and policies on how workplace violence and/or harassment will be handled.
In addition, your firm’s employee handbook must include code of conduct requirements, which should cover topics including dress code, code of ethics, safety, and attendance policies. In addition, your firm’s communications policy needs to address the proper usage and storage of mail/emails, text messages, and address any social media-related restrictions. And of course, law firms of any size must address nondiscrimination policies, employment and termination policies, and include an acknowledgment letter.
It’s important to provide all employees with a copy of any revisions to the employee handbook as they are implemented. Likewise, a new letter of acknowledgement of receipt of revisions to the handbook should be distributed and signed by all employees.

MAINTAIN PROPER DOCUMENTS
When you find yourself in the undesirable position of having to terminate an employee, you’ll find that the process is far less anxiety inducing if you’ve kept proper documentation of their performance. All violations of the firm’s code of conduct or other policies must be addressed and documented, so as to protect your firm from a lawsuit later on.
For example, when evaluating performance or taking disciplinary action, make sure that the meeting is documented with the dates and times of the incidences. Suggestions for improvements to be made in the future should also be provided for the employee facing disciplinary action. In addition, be sure to record the names, dates, and times of all who are in attendance when addressing the violation(s) with an employee.
At the conclusion of any meeting regarding firm policy violations, be sure to have the employee sign an acknowledgement that they have received warning of the violation, understand the future disciplinary actions that may be taken if the problem is not corrected, and understand how to not make the same mistake again.

SAFELY STORE ALL EMPLOYEE RECORDS
An I-9 is the absolute bare minimum of what needs to be safely stored for each firm employee. Savvy firms will also retain a copy of the employee’s resume, any background check results, any confidentiality agreements, and a copy of the acknowledgement of receipt of the firm handbook, along with items such as the offer letter presented, and the W-4.
A second file for each employee ought to be created and maintained, which will include all health- and welfare-related benefits information which may be protected under HIPAA privacy laws. This safely stored file ought to include items such as insurance benefit forms, drug screening consent forms and results, physician’s notes, and/or any personal or family leave information.
In addition to keeping all personal information safe and secure, it’s smart to schedule an annual audit of your own files to ensure that all pertinent information is where it ought to be, and that it is safely and privately protected.

SPEND MORE TIME SCREENING EMPLOYEES
An ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure when it comes to hiring new receptionists, legal secretaries, office managers, paralegals, law clerks and of course, attorneys. Discrepancies often exist between what potential employees report on resumes and cover letters, and what can be verified by their previous employers. In addition to a job history verification, you’re going to want to conduct an education verification, criminal background check, fraud detection, and a National Sex Offender Registry check.
Because of the time commitment required to thoroughly pre-screen employees, it’s not surprising that many firms opt to outsource this process, including drug screening, background checks and more to companies who provide this service. If you choose to pre-screen employees on your own, be prepared for it to take time, but it’s worth every minute you spend upfront, to avoid the time and expense of terminating, and having to start the process over again with a new candidate.

FOCUS ON ONBOARDING TRAINING
Studies have shown that employee turnover costs employers much more than an employee’s annual salary. The time spent training only to have an employee leave, followed by finding another candidate is incredibly costly in terms of time and money. Onboarding training aims to reduce turnover.
In its simplest form, onboarding refers to the process of acclimating and welcoming new members to your firm, by providing them with resources, tools, and the knowledge they need to be successful and productive members of your firm. In order to create a firm culture that matches with your vision, it’s smart to formalize an onboarding training program, so that new employees understand overall goals and vision for the firm.

BE CAREFUL WITH CLASSIFICATION OF EMPLOYEES
Any slip up with the classification of employees can wind up costing your firm a lot of money. You need to familiarize yourself with the differences between a non-exempt employee, an overtime exempt employee, and any independent contractors, including contract attorneys. The Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA) governs classification issues, while the United States Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division provides guidance on the FLSA. Visit www.dol.gov for more information.
If being responsible for hiring, training, and classifying employees all seems like way more work than you signed up for when launching your firm, rest assured you’re not alone. As the head of a firm of any size, you’ll ultimately be responsible for the success and safety of your practice. But that doesn’t mean that you have to personally address all of the HR and employment issues facing your firm on your own.
It is a misconception that Professional Employer Organizations (also called PEOs) are only available to large firms. On the contrary, firms ranging in size from 5-150 employees are actually perfect candidates for engaging the services of a PEO, because the firm will receive the “big firm benefit packages” which help to recruit and retain top talent. They also reduce many of the employer liabilities that your firm may currently have. Indeed, by offloading these responsibilities to companies who handle employment matters and HR issues each and every day, you can focus on what you do best—passionately advocating on behalf of your clients, so that your firm can continue to flourish.

Robert Lehrer

Robert Lehrer is a Business Performance Advisor with Insperity, which provides an array of human resources and business performance solutions including administrative relief, better benefits, reduced liabilities and systematic ways to improve productivity. Additional company offerings include Human Capital Management, Payroll Services, Time and Attendance, Performance Management, Organizational Planning, Recruiting Services, Employment Screening, Financial Services, Expense Management, Retirement Services and Insurance Services. Contact Robert at Robert.Lehrer@Insperity.com, or via phone at 818-546-3112

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Filed Under: Business ManagementFeatured Stories

About the Author: Robert Lehrer is a Business Performance Advisor with Insperity, which provides an array of human resources and business performance solutions including administrative relief, better benefits, reduced liabilities and systematic ways to improve productivity. Additional company offerings include Human Capital Management, Payroll Services, Time and Attendance, Performance Management, Organizational Planning, Recruiting Services, Employment Screening, Financial Services, Expense Management, Retirement Services and Insurance Services. Contact Robert at Robert.Lehrer@Insperity.com, or via phone at 818-546-3112

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