As I travel around the country teaching continuing education programs for HR professionals, I routinely encounter many professionals who have been “thrown” into HR. Experience in handling payroll? Check. Experience handling benefits? Check. Pretty organized person with administrative backround? Check. But OF COURSE you can also handle employee relations and conduct internal investigations!!

So, what is wrong with this picture? What’s wrong is that business owners (primarily in smaller organizations with headcounts under 500) are throwing these individuals to the wolves–and creating a ton of risk for their businesses. Handling sticky HR issues involving sexual harassment, discrimination, hostile work environment, retaliation, etc. can literally cost a business owner the ENTIRE business! The current EEOC charges are proof that far more charge notices are coming across the desks of HR professionals. Just since 2008 there has been a dramatic increase in retaliation charges. And, retaliation cases are not cheap–and actually riskier than dealing with your “garden variety” harassment or discrimination claim.

Individuals who are now supposed to “do HR” in a smaller business are simply flying by the seat of their pants every single day. In doing so, they are making decisions on behalf of the employer. Decisions such as whether or not to grant FMLA, whether or not to classify a worker as exempt or non-exempt, whether or not there is enough documentation (if any) to terminate an employee, and the list goes on. When individuals get thrown into HR without proper training, they are not only making major mistakes in the handling of sensitive (and often sticky) employee issues, but they are also more than likely stepping on a ton of legal landmines regarding the actual investigative process. And, what many new HR professionals do not know–is that many laws including the FMLA, FLSA, and other common laws make it possible for individual liability. Yes, that’s right–INDIVIDUAL liability. That means YOU can be sued individually by a boneheaded employee who got disciplined and has an attitude about it…or an employee who actually got fired. Not uncommon today for employees to file suit against the company–and the HR manager and supervisors involved in the employment action.

So, take my advice–make sure HR is properly trained in how maintain legal compliance. And, that HR is properly trained in how to conduct internal investigations. For more information, you can check out my new book on Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/How-Conduct-Internal-Investigations-Professionals/dp/1483935248/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385391707&sr=8-1&keywords=natalie+ivey

That’s all for now…see ya’ next time!

Natalie.

Natalie Ivey is President & CEO of Results Performance Consulting, Inc., an HR consulting firm based in Boca Raton, FL. www.rpchr.com and HR-investigations.com
She is a consultant and educator in the HR profession and routinely facilitates leadership development and continuing education programs throughout the U.S.