Are your HR documents in order?

Are your HR documents in order?

While restaurants must focus on providing customers with the best possible experience, owners and supervisors cannot overlook the technical aspects of operating the business. This includes good document practices. Generating and maintaining good records can go a long way towards avoiding legal problems and resolving any issues that do come up. Here are some of the key documents that can help keep you out of trouble.

Employee Policies: Not every restaurant needs a detailed handbook, but at a minimum having a few critical policies helps set expectations for both workers and management

Employment At-Will: In Washington employment is “at-will” unless otherwise agreed. This means an employee can quit or be terminated at any time for any reason so long as there is no illegal motivation such as discrimination. A clear statement that employment is “at-will” helps reinforce this status and avoid any disputes.

Conduct and Discipline: Policies identifying conduct expectations and examples of what can lead to discipline set a tone for the workplace and help regulate worker behavior. Provisions describing potential discipline should allow as much discretion and freedom to management as possible. Unless there are very good reasons for doing so, progressive discipline systems should be avoided as they typically restrict management’s ability to act.

Anti-Harassment and Discrimination: An anti-harassment and discrimination policy combined with a procedure for reporting and investigating possible problem behavior is necessary for an employer to reserve powerful legal defenses. If a legally sound policy is in place and an employee fails to take advantage of it before bringing a legal complaint, the employer may be able to obtain dismissal of the claims.

Written Acknowledgement: Signed and dated acknowledgements should be obtained from all workers regarding restaurant policies. A simple signed and dated form provides strong evidence that that the employee received, read, and understood the policies.

Time Records: Employers are legally required to maintain records on wages paid for three years. Good records of time worked and payments made are critical to establishing workers were paid for all hours worked, which in turn is critical to avoiding or defeating any claims for unpaid wages. Employers should ensure workers record the times they start and stop working. If workers submit their own time sheets, employers should consider obtaining certification from employees that time submitted reflects all time worked. If restaurants allow employees to swap shifts, all shift changes should be clearly and legibly documented to help track worker hours and ensure that unauthorized overtime is not incurred.

Employee Discipline: Sooner or later it is likely that an employee will do something that is just unacceptable. If action is taken, employers should generate records of discipline imposed. Documentation does not need to be elaborate and should include date of incident, basic facts, and action taken against the worker. Having the form signed and dated by the employee helps defeat any suggestion that the employee was unaware there was a problem or that another incident could result in more severe action. Disciplinary records can be critical to establish legitimate business reasons for action if a disciplined or terminated employee claims discrimination or other improper motive by the employer.

by Patrick S. Pearce | Attorney

Ogden Murphy Wallace P.L.L.C.

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