It happens in almost every company, large and small. There are the rules in the employee handbook. And then there are the rules everyone uses day to day to operate the business. Unfortunately. the two are often very different.
It might seem like the "we've always done it that way" rules are just fine. After all, everyone knows how things work, right? The answer is no. Those informal rules and practices are the very things that could land your company in legal and regulatory hot water. Consider these examples, drawn from actual cases. (The names have been changed to protect the guilty):
At XYZ Construction, injuries are a way of life. People who get injured on the job are expected to "suck it up" and get back to work as soon as possible. And if they can't get back to their old job almost immediately, well, it's time to let them go and hire someone new. It's not written that way in the company handbook, but everyone knows those are the real rules. Unfortunately, those "rules" landed them into trouble with FMLA and ADA regulations which mandated job protection during covered leave and reasonable accommodations for disabilities.
PDQ Consulting has always prided themselves on hard work and a can-do attitude. Management has no qualms about doing whatever it takes to keep employees on top of their game, even if it means calling people out at company meetings for poor performance or mocking specific employee quirks and weaknesses in training sessions. Employees frequently get in on the act, teasing other staff members about everything from their accents to a limp. The CEO sees these "antics" as tools for improving sales. But a court of law would probably define it as harassment and creating a hostile work environment. And that meant pricy lawsuits and even more expensive judgements.
Big Store Shopping promises shoppers the lowest prices in town. They're always looking for ways to keep costs down, and cutting labor expenses is one of the easiest. Sure the employee handbook says staff has to clock in and clock out whenever they're on the job. And they have all the required wage and hour laws posted. But if employees put in just an hour or so every shift off the clock, well that's just showing gratitude for having a job, right? That's not how the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) inspectors saw it. By the time the inspections were complete, all of those "savings" had evaporated into fines and penalties.
There are dozens of other examples out there. Some are about companies side-stepping rules about safety training, and then having to pay out for violations and injuries. Others were businesses trying to sweep sexual harassment claims under the rug or firing people who file complaints, only to find their company facing charges in court.
Ironically, in almost all of these cases, the right way to do things was detailed in the company rules, but "folk rules" had taken over. The results were dangerous and expensive.
So what are your company's real rules?
Is your company operating "by-the-book" on critical compliance and legal issues? Or have standard practices become a distant memory?
If you're not sure, it's probably time to take a look at the rules (formal and informal) governing your company's operations. If things have slipped off course, it's time to bring in some training to realign the common practices with the laws and compliance guidelines. It might not be a comfortable process, especially for long-time employees, but it could protect your company from penalties and judgements.
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