Guest Blog: Classic HR Mistakes to Avoid


With all of the information swirling on the web, HR professionals know that it can be difficult to separate the signal from the noise.  After all, it seems there is no shortage of HR experts with opinions on how HR professionals should do their jobs.  Combine that with guidance from the Department of Labour, the National Labour Relations Board, employment attorneys and the good folks on Twitter, and we’re left with a ton of information, but no real clarity as to what is really important.

These five classic HR mistakes are exceedingly common and disruptive, but easy to avoid.

1. Don’t Act in Haste

The biggest mistake an HR professional can make is taking action without first gathering information.  This mistake is prevalent in almost every aspect of HR including hiring, performance evaluations, handling disputes, investigations and so-called “adverse employment actions” like discipline, demotion or termination.  Worse yet, this mistake often leads to litigation prosecuted by hungry plaintiff’s attorneys or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  HR professionals should do their due diligence when confronted with a conflict in the workplace to avoid making a bad situation worse.

2. Don’t Let your Employee Handbook Languish

The employee handbook is HR’s manifesto to the employees.  It is the most effective and comprehensive way of communicating employer policies and procedures.  However, HR professionals who allow their employee handbooks to go out-of-date and/or include policies that have since been changed or eliminated, send mixed signals to their employees.  The confusion caused by an outdated or inaccurate employee handbook can lead to litigation and can undermine many of the employer’s defences when it comes to employment lawsuits like wrongful termination or discrimination. 

3. Don’t Use Hyperbole in Employee Evaluations

One of the HR professional’s most important roles is managing employee expectations.  From expectations grow ambition, desire for a higher salary or more responsibility and in some cases, desire for a new job.  HR must be careful in reserving praise for the employees who deserve it and withholding criticism for the employees who deserve it.  On the other hand, non-specific employee evaluations are similarly problematic as they do not effectively communicate with employees.  HR professionals should be specific and accurate in performance evaluations, but should fight the urge to exaggerate.

4. Don’t be Inconsistent

Inconsistency is often the seed that grows into a class action discrimination case.  HR professionals must, at all times, treat employees equally and reward or discipline them based on their performance only.  Playing favourites, particularly among employees who are friendly or who have close personal relationships is always going to be viewed as problematic by impartial outside observers (like a judge or a jury).  HR professionals should strive to keep their personal lives and their professional lives separate when it comes to evaluations, promotions, discipline and investigations.  Of course, it is important to foster good relationships with and among employees, but it’s equally important to leave those relationships out of the decision-making

5. Don’t Conduct Cursory Investigations

An investigation is one of the HR professional’s most useful and effective tools toward correcting workplace misconduct, improving business practices and protecting the employer from liability. To be effective, it is essential that every investigation be conducted fairly, thoroughly and without bias.  It is helpful for the employer to develop and implement a robust internal investigation policy so that employees are well aware of the purpose for investigations, investigation tactics and how the employer will use the results it obtains from investigations.  When investigations grow complicated, it is also good practice to involve in-house or outside counsel as a second set of eyes and ears. 

This article was a joint collaboration by Ella Mason, a specialist freelance writer who specializes in providing useful and engaging advice for businesses, and Michael C. Jacobson, Legal Editor at Xpert HR.

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