5 Tips for Cultivating Legally Responsible Employees

Staff behavior represents one of an organization’s biggest risks

Posted by James Hudgins in on August 13th, 2014

In today’s litigious society anyone owning or operating a business must guard against potential legal risk. From internal issues relating to workplace harassment, discrimination, and unsafe conditions, to accidents, product defects, or copyright and patent infringement, companies face many challenges that could lead to costly lawsuits.

People are unpredictable, so the first step in reducing risk is to harbor a legally responsible culture that makes staff behavior more predictable. The following tips can help companies cultivate an informed staff capable of protecting the organization’s best interests:

1. Hire Responsible People

Companies that perform candidate screening and background checks represent an increasing majority – however, those that either do the bare minimum or choose to skip these steps run a higher risk of hiring an employee with a criminal record or problematic history. The appropriate amount of screening depends on the type of position and level of responsibility and the available time and resources, but the investment is warranted by the positive impact of hiring better people.

Beyond a criminal records search, many employers (depending on local laws) perform additional screening including past employment and education verification, driving records, drug testing, and even social media and online activity searches in order to gain the most complete and accurate picture of a potential hire.

2. Run An Orientation Program

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Just because you are bringing in new hires who have exhibited character and restraint prior to joining your organization, it doesn’t mean they understand their new legal responsibilities. Create an orientation program that makes incoming staff aware of applicable workplace laws, and that covers factors and potential pitfalls specific to individual roles or positions. By doing this, you underscore your commitment to legal responsibility and establish expectations. Develop your program beyond supplying incoming staff with technical documents and educational videos by using simulated training sessions and  mentoring exercises that better illustrate best practices and preparedness for tackling real-world situations.

3. Provide Clear Policies

Assuming that your employees understand appropriate workplace behavior and safety procedures is a dangerous proposition. Creating comprehensive policies and requiring employees to review and document their understanding of them not only helps you live up to your own legal obligations, but also arms individuals with the knowledge to make more informed decisions. Whether it comes to how staff members conduct themselves as representatives of your organization and interact with customers and coworkers, or how they use social media or handle sensitive personal information, make sure you make expectations (as well as repercussions for failing to comply) perfectly clear.

4. Be Conscientious

No matter how thoroughly you educate and train your staff, the resonance of your message will inevitably diminish over time. Organizations can effectively counteract this by cultivating a culture in which legal responsibilities remain in the foreground.

Supply ongoing training opportunities, and deliver frequent updates and reminders. Consider launching initiatives like “Cyber Mondays,” where the staff starts each week by reviewing core online safety policies, updating passwords and security settings, and redoubling efforts to operate in compliance. The difference between another day in the clear and an unfortunate incident leading to a debilitating lawsuit often lies in the small details, such as scheduling a meeting to clarify a change in the law, or strategically placing a message reminding employees of essential responsibilities and behavioral expectations.

5. Develop Leaders

In addition to investing in software for managing human resources investigations, mitigating risks, and staying up to date on ethics and compliance, harboring a culture of self-policing provides additional layers of legal responsibility. Create a structure in which each department has a peer-appointed panel that meets on a regular basis to address emerging concerns, plan and execute training and education sessions, and emphasize the seriousness of compliance. Reward individuals who consistently set a good example and are willing and capable of providing innovative strategies for a safer, more legally responsible workplace. The goal is to develop good leaders and managers throughout your organization who have the standing and strength to hold coworkers accountable, but also make themselves available to peers for consultation, guidance, and support.

In a world where a single act of negligence, ignorance, or malice can cost an organization everything, risk management is key. By carefully scrutinizing the character of new hires, providing foundational knowledge and training, and harboring a culture of conscientiousness and support, you can cultivate a staff that takes its legal responsibility seriously.


James Hudgins

James Hudgins is a contributor who writes about business, staffing, and technology.