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All I need to know about HR I learned in kindergarten

March 24, 2015

goldenruleThere’s a lot going on every day in employment law. New laws, new cases, new regulations, new requirements. It’s next to impossible for a huge HR department with significant resources to digest it all, let alone a small business owner doing everything else as well.

But there’s one rule every employee, HR rep, or owner knows already, that will serve you well regardless of the situation. I’m talking about the Golden Rule. Treating others how you’d wish to be treated. Basic fairness. That’s what most of us want, regardless of which side of the employer-employee divide you find yourself on.

Think I’m being too simplistic? From the legal point of view the Golden Rule has a lot to say for itself. What happens if you get in a dispute? Sure, you’ll be arguing case law and code sections. But worst case scenario, you are going to have to justify your actions to a jury of regular people. (And even if most cases settle, they settle based in large part on how the parties expect a jury to view the case.) How is the jury of laypeople going to judge what you did? Probably under some version of the Golden Rule.

They’ll ask questions like this:

  • Did the employee know what was expected?
  • Were decisions made after gathering all the facts?
  • Were similarly situated people generally treated the same?
  • Was power abused?
  • Did everyone get his or her say?
  • Was a promise made, and if so was it kept?
  • Was the process and the outcome fair?

And depending on the answers to those questions, they may go to a place no company wants them to be:

  • How much?

Now don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid managing, or that you need to keep non-performers or troublemakers in the ranks out of some misguided attempt to give a benefit when all doubt has long since left the building. If you think about it, failing to make the tough personnel decisions is unfair to the other workers, who are going to have to work harder to make up for someone else’s failings. As long as an employer can show it acted humanely, fairly, reasonably, and consistently, it will be well placed to prove that it’s the employee and not the boss who is responsible for the problem.

By all means keep up with all of the many rules, laws, and regulations that apply to workplace relations. And get professional help when you need it. But don’t miss the big picture sorting through the minutiae of statutes, regulations, administrative opinions and court cases. Make sure you run your decisions through the fairness meter as well.

Practice what you learned in kindergarten, and follow the Golden Rule. The jury will.

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