Friday, May 29, 2009

Use the Personnel Manual Against Your Employer

If you are a target at work, one of the things you need to do is to take a good hard look at your personnel manual. I don’t mean skim the manual. I mean read it. Look for anything in the policies and procedures that show that your supervisor, manager, HR or anyone in authority violated or side-stepped the company’s established guidelines.

Think of how you can use the company’s policies and procedures to illustrate and document how your employer was intentionally and blatantly disregarding their own written policies and practices in order to ignore your plight, disregard your requests, silence your complaint, and/or in order to create a hostile and offensive work environment for you as a means of retaliation. Here’s what I suggest you do:

-- Check the personnel manual on a semi-regular basis to see if there are any changes or updates. Your HR department is supposed to announce changes, but they don’t always do so in a timely fashion.

-- Check the sections of the personnel manual that relate to any issues you have and make sure the company is following its own policies and procedures. If decisions are made that seem to contradict the company’s policies and procedures, ask for clarification--in writing. Be clear about the contradiction to policy and ask that the procedures outlined be followed or for a full explanation about why another course of action was taken.

-- Use quotes from the personnel manual when you are emailing HR or executive staff about your complaint. This will let them know you’re familiar with the policies and procedures of the company. It tells them you know how they are supposed to be handling your case. This also lets your company know how serious you are about the issue. This awareness should encourage your employers to follow their own procedures. However, if they deviate from the procedures, they are simply providing you with documentation that is evidence of a potentially deliberate attempt to violate your employee rights and ignore your complaint.

-- If you are confused about something in the personnel manual, ask questions. Some of the information may be confusing. You have a right to ask for clarification. If you’re uncomfortable asking someone in HR for clarification, speak to someone you trust--who would know the correct answer.

-- Develop a list of any contradictions in the actions taken by your employer against you and the policies they have established. Show how you company has repeatedly gone against policy, if they have done so.

-- Make a copy of the personnel manual, at the very least copy the sections that are relevant to any issues you may have at work. You may need to compare an old version of the manual to an updated version of the manual in order to highlight changes that have been made. Some companies only have their personnel manual available online through an intranet, so you should definitely be certain to maintain a hard copy of relevant policies.

-- Always look at the sections on anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, retaliation, filing an internal complaint, promotion criteria, performance review guidelines, and addressing performance issues. These are some of the likely sections that will be relevant; especially if your company is setting you up for tangible employment actions (e.g., misrepresenting promotion criteria in order to pretend you don’t currently qualify for a promotion) or setting you up for disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

Here’s something to remember about written policies as you read through your personnel manual. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states:

“…there are no safe harbors for employers based on the written content of policies and procedures. Even the best policy and complaint procedure won’t alone satisfy the burden of proving reasonable care…if the employer failed to implement its process effectively.”

In other words, if your employer wasn’t taking the necessary steps to ensure that its anti-harassment polices were properly enforced, your employer can wave a hard copy of their anti-harassment policy all day and all night and it won’t do them any good. Simply having a written anti-harassment policy won’t protect them from allegations of harassment nor will it prove that your employer has not violated Federal law.


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