While there are many complex aspects of employment law, the basics are principles taught in kindergarten. As we prepare for back-to-school, let’s look at the elementary elements that can help build the foundation of best employment practices:

  1. Keep your hands to yourself
  2. Treat everyone the same
  3. Be respectful
  4. See something, say something
  5. LISTEN

1. Keep your hands to yourself

Unless the duties of the job require it, or it is a professional handshake, people should not touch one another in the work environment or at work-related events. Employees and employers need to be conscious of how touching can make others feel, either the recipient or the observer. Most legal standards are based upon how the alleged victim felt, not what someone intended. If you must touch, you must get consent and be wary of undue influence on consent because of power positions.

2. Treat everyone the same

When making employment decisions such as who to hire, fire, promote, or discipline, ensure these choices are based upon merit and business needs in a consistent manner. Employees also need to take care to provide the same opportunities and treatment to all of their co-workers. Do not dismiss an older worker from the social media project because “their generation just doesn’t get it.” Managers, take care not to pass over the pregnant employee for a promotion because they don’t think she’ll be able to meet travel requirements. When deciding to fire a male employee for tardiness, make sure the next time a female employee exhibits the same behavior, you also terminate her. Consistency is key to ensuring equal treatment and comparable situations will be evaluated if a legal claim arises.

3. Be respectful

We all have opinions and we do not have to like everyone, but that does not mean we should not treat everyone with respect. Remember that what you think is “funny” or “just a joke” could be offensive to someone else. If you would not want it displayed on your front door for your family and neighbors, or on record in court for the public, then it is probably not appropriate to share at work. While managers give feedback and occasionally provide discipline, those actions should always be based upon performance and behavior. Co-workers, similarly, should engage in constructive criticism when warranted, but never by using someone’s age, sex, or race.

4. See something, say something

This applies to all areas of the workplace. If you see a safety hazard, unauthorized visitor, harassment, or any other potentially dangerous situation, say something. There should be reporting structures in place for each employee and the various situations that may arise. For instance, perhaps protocol has employees report concerns regarding harassment to a direct supervisor, or if they aren’t comfortable with the supervisor, directly to human resources. Supervisors should report to human resources, or other members of management as necessary, and they should also always have more than one person to report to in the case of conflict or emergency. Management should have a solid panel of professionals, such as their lawyers, to whom they can reach out to when they see something and need to say something.

5. LISTEN

Listen to employees when they say they need help, or something is wrong. Listen to customers to understand what they really need. Listen to your own policies. This means following and enforcing your procedures. Listen when professionals provide guidance and training. Listen to the changes your organization is indicating that it needs. Listening can provide insight into potential problem areas before they become legal complications.

Employment law is a labyrinth of issues and regulations. These elementary elements of best practices, along with solid, consistently enforced policies, and training, can assist employers and employees in working toward making a more positive and productive work environment.