Top HR Risks Facing Small Law Firms in 2015

By Jeff Rosset

Based on experience, and the stories heard from businesses every day, this is a list of the top four HR risks that legal practices, along with all small businesses, are facing in 2015. Please consider the following components, as well as how to apply the suggested solutions into your firm today.

Being Sued by a Disgruntled Employee
This fear is always in the back of a practice manager’s mind (as well as the managing partner’s), and for good reason. Recent data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shows that there were over 93,000 discrimination charges filed in fiscal year 2013 – up over 23 percent since just 2006. Needless to say, it’s imperative to ensure that your workplace is free from discrimination and harassment. Your best chance at successfully defending against an employee lawsuit is to secure documentation that would prove to a reasonable person that the employee was treated fairly and consistently with company policy. Examples would be an up-to-date employee guidebook, consistent performance review documents, termination checklists and complete job descriptions. Remember, juries are made up primarily by employees (not employ- ers). Having the ability and documentation to demonstrate that the company treats its employees impartially and consistently goes a long way in terms of reducing an employer’s exposure to liability.

Having Non-Compliant Personnel Files
To avoid penalties or other consequences, your firm must be sure to retain appropriate records according to state and federal compliance regulations, and also that information stored in a personnel file doesn’t contain protected information (which should be stored separately). For example, any record that includes protected and/or non-job related information such as date of birth, marital status, dependent information, medical information, immigration status, national origin, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, criminal and financial history, subjective statements or accusations, etc. should be filed separately from a personnel file.

When determining whether or not to place information and documents in a personnel file, be sure to consider relevance. Would the information be relevant to a supervisor who may review this file when making employment decisions? Is the information related to the employee’s performance, knowledge, skills, abilities and/or behavior? If it is, then it should be placed in the employee’s personnel file. Finally, be sure these files are accessible only to those who need access; typically, this is just the human resources staff.

Finding the Right People
For any law firm, especially those with a tight-knit culture, it is imperative to make every new hire the right hire. When a business makes the wrong hire, there are not only financial consequences, but the risk of causing internal unease as well. That said firms must be very careful and strategic when hiring. Be prepared to invest substantial time reviewing and sorting job application and resume submissions when seeking prospective candidates. In your interviewing process, remember that the best predictor of future job performance is past performance. To that end, consider using a behavioral-based interviewing technique, and don’t forget to run a background check as well as verify the candidate’s references.

In addition, remember that oftentimes your best (and most cost-effective) recruiting sources are your current employees. So, it’s wise to start by asking if they know anyone who would make a good employee and culture fit. You may even choose to financially incentivize current employees who bring you successful employees.

Losing Top Performers
Now that the job market is picking up some momentum, practices are at risk of losing their most valued and productive employees to other firms. While different surveys report varying results, generally speaking, the top five factors impacting employee workplace satisfaction are:

 

  • The employee’s relationship with his/her direct manager.
  • The employee’s salary.
  • The employee’s benefit plans.
  • The employee’s opportunity to use his/her skills and abilities.
  • The employee’s opportunity for advancement.

 

It’s recommend that you complete an audit of your workplace and give yourself a grade on each of these factors as they relate to your top performers, as well as comparing your results to other firms in your geographical region. Based on the results of your workplace audit, you may need to consider making some adjustments to your organization’s pay structure, benefit offerings, management style, job duties and/or career planning.

The HR-related content of this article was produced in conjunction with The HR Support Center, a strategic resource partner of MidwestHR. This message does not and is not intended to contain legal advice, and its contents do not constitute the practice of law or provision of legal counsel. The sender cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to its receipt.


Jeff Rosset is a partner and director of marketing with MidwestHR, a professional employer organization headquartered in Woodridge, Illinois. MidwestHR provides small-medium sized businesses with relief from dozens of time-consuming HR and employment-related functions, while also helping to protect the business from increasing HR liabilities and risks. In addition, MidwestHR supports the growth of their clients by helping them offer a more robust benefits package to their employees, while staying in better control of their premiums in the process. For more information, visit www.MidwestHR.com.