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As published in Toledo Business Journal - May 1, 2017

Why training should matter to human resources departments

William V. Beach, RCO Law (Robison, Curphey & O'Connell, LLC)

by William V. Beach, RCO Law (Robison, Curphey & O’Connell, LLC)

Good human resources directors are always looking for ways to address and resolve employment-related problems in the workplace. Great directors also strive to prevent future problems from occurring.

Hearing complaints from employees regarding the insensitive comments made by supervisors or managers can be frustrating for those in Human Resources who work hard to prevent such interactions. A more proactive approach, in which those supervisors and managers receive training to prevent the insensitive (or discriminatory) comments would be valuable not only to legal counsel but also to those in human resources and to the culture and success of the organization as a whole.

Managers who don’t receive good training can sink an otherwise defensible case.

Sometimes just one comment can expose an employer to a possible damages award at trial or in litigation. For example, a supervisor’s recommendation that an employee be terminated in part because she “submits a request for medical leave” was viewed by the court as direct evidence of discrimination and the employer’s motion for summary judgment was denied.

That same supervisor testified in his deposition that he was “’not really familiar’ with Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave because he was ‘on the front line.’” It didn’t matter that the employee had a documented history of poor performance. Including her request for medical leave in the list of reasons to terminate, a decision which was approved by upper management, was enough for her FMLA retaliation claim to survive summary judgment. Training on the FMLA may have prevented that email and the lawsuit.

Training now and on a regular basis prevents or shortens lawsuits.

Sometimes being able to show that all employees receive regular and comprehensive training on issues like FMLA and ADA claims can provide some defense for an employer facing a discrimination lawsuit. More importantly, the training might actually change behavior and improve relationships as managers learn how to appropriately handle claims made by the employees. An employer in Wyoming likely wishes it had trained one of its supervisors before he began referring to the day a military veteran employee attended therapy sessions to treat his PTSD as “Psycho Thursday.”

Good training sends the message that employee advocacy is important.

Meaningful training engages the workforce and demonstrates to employees that his or her employer is invested in their experience in their work day. It shows that the employer is proactive in preventing problems before they occur and in following the rules that protect its employees. That engagement can energize good employees, and that environment is a good recruiting tool to attract other good employees.