Dear HR Professional,
It’s not easy to be a human resources professional when your most important tool – your employee handbook – is turned against you. Consider what happened to my young friend Lindsay in her first job as a new HR Management grad …
At the end of her third-round interview, her new boss Alan shook her hand to welcome her aboard. Then he said something that made her pause: “We’re really looking forward to your making this place run more professionally!”
What did that mean?, Lindsay wondered. How bad is it?
The following Monday morning, she found out.
Dear old Myrna was a doll. She brought the photos of her grandkids back out of the cardboard packing boxes to show Lindsay. She waved vaguely at the file cabinets and binders crowding the small office, explaining what the job would entail.
And she signed for a very official-looking brown envelope that Lindsay could see was “From the Law Offices of …” Myrna reminisced with the courier and gave him a warm good-bye hug.
Lindsay picked up the brown envelope and showed it to Myrna. “I wonder what this is,” she said carefully.
Myrna frowned. “We keep getting those. They want some kind of documents about an employee who left, and I keep sending them things, but then they ask for more.” And Myrna moved on to more pleasant topics, like where the tea and hot chocolate were stored and which nearby sandwich shop was best.
After the “Good-Bye, Myrna; Welcome, Lindsay!” lunch, finally alone in the dark little room, a worried Lindsay cleared a little space on the desk and opened the brown envelope.
A lawsuit. They were being sued.
Calm down, Lindsay told herself. After taking a deep breath and collecting her thoughts, she started rummaging through the boxes and drawers.
Toward quitting time, Alan stuck his head in the door. “How’s it going? Not too overwhelming, I hope?”
“Well, we have a problem,” Lindsay said briskly. “We’re being sued for hostile work environment and wrongful discharge of a longtime employee named Raymond Davis.” She was about to ask if Alan knew about the lawsuit, but his shocked expression told her he did not. “I’ve found three copies of his employee application from 1981 but nothing about his progressive discipline or the circumstances under which he left. Oh, and I found this.”
She showed him a yellowed binder. Its spine declared “Employee Handbook” and its title page was dated 1990. “Is there anything more recent?”
Alan took the binder from her, turning it over for examination as if it were an artifact. “No, I don’t give out the handbook anymore. Too many confusing things in there that I didn’t feel comfortable trying to explain.”
Alan met Lindsay’s steady gaze. “We have a problem, don’t we?”
“Yes, I think we do,” she replied.