Tag: PACE Staffing Network

* Call Them Temps. Call Them Contractors. Call Them Consultants. Whatever You Call Them – You Need Them!

by Jeanne Knutzen | September 22, 2015

0 Blog, Flexible Staffing Strategies Employment Agency Bellevue, Flexible WorkForce, hiring, PACE Staffing Network, Recruiting, strategic staffing, Temporary Staffing, Temporary Staffing In Seattle, workforce solutions

Call Them Temps. Call Them Contractors. Call Them Consultants. Whatever You Call Them – You Need Them! Employers who have mastered the management of large and strategically focused flexible workforce's, and have learned to embrace this workforce rather than see it as a necessary evil, know that the workforce strategies represented by these workers are anything but temporary. … Read More »

Are You Making the Most of Your Temporary Staffing Options?

by Jeanne Knutzen | October 1, 2013

0 Blog, Human Resource Roles Contract Employees, Downsizing, Flexible Staffing Models, PACE Staffing Network, Seattle Staffing, Seattle Staffing Agency, Shamrock Organization, Staffing Solutions, Temporary Staffing, WorkForce Optimization

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]1. What percentage of your total workforce currently falls into one of the flexible worker (temp, contract, part-time) categories?  While there is no magic ratio of flex-to-core employees, if your percentage of core to non-core staff is 10% or below, look hard at the things your company is doing to embrace the “flexible work” model. The “shamrock organization” that has been widely touted as the model for the future, suggests that as much as 33% of your workforce can be contingent workers, while another 33% are the workers provided by “outsourced” service providers. Only 33% of this shamrock workforce are core employees, with the responsibility to manage and coordinate the work of the contingent others. Does this staffing model make business sense for your company? Your team? How much money could you shave off your operating budget if you became more “shamrock” like? 2. Is the demand for your goods or services increasing or decreasing? How have you adjusted your headcounts to deal with these trends? Reducing or adding to your temporary/flexible workforce is fast becoming the preferred staffing model to cushion the highs and lows of economic volatility. The notion of “right sizing” isn’t just about reducing staff; it’s also about not making permanent commitments to core employees until you know for sure that a business trend is stable. Using a flexible staffing strategy to always stay “right sized” has become a strategic method used by employers to transition wage costs from a fixed cost to a variable cost. Investing in or holding onto fixed costs that your competitors treat as variable will eventually impact profitability and your ability to compete. 3. Do you have a good handle on the rhythms of supply and demand for your department’s particular goods and services? The reoccurring low and high points of your team’s work cycles? With the growth in popularity of temporary and contract staffing options, an employer’s ability to move employees in and out of work environments quickly has significantly improved. Many employers have made a science out of staffing their teams at levels to support the lowest points in the demand cycle and using flexible workers to cycle-up or cycle-down in response to business need. “Workforce optimization” software’s have been developed to help companies track productivity requirements prior to impact. 4. How much overtime is currently being required of your workforce – core and flex? Overtime is very costly and is often a reactive strategy rather than the result of a well thought out plan. Staffing with the right number of core employees and augmenting up or down with flexible employees should eliminate most overtime requirements. 5. When special projects or reworks come up, do you typically have enough employees currently on staff to handle the extra work load? If you have core staff that consistently have the time to volunteer for additional work, chances are your company has too many fixed wage costs embedded into your workforce strategies. Most work that is non-reoccurring or not part of your regular routine should be done by your flexible workforce, not your core. 6. How long is it taking you to hire a core employee? What is the impact to your business of an inability to hire? If you need to move quickly and it takes too long to hire a core employee, you can miss important opportunities. Temporary or contract employees with the skill sets you need, can be brought in and put to work quickly. Temp-to-hire staffing models have dramatically increased over the last two years. Workers who have found themselves suddenly out of job are oftentimes willing to work in non-core ways. Many of these employees will bring new ideas and new ways of working to your company, promoting an atmosphere of change. 7. Are there jobs under your direction with high turnover, requiring you to be constantly in “hire” mode? Reoccurring turnover can be a sign that the job you are trying to fill just might not lend itself to a core staffing model. Many work groups composed of workers with low to moderate skill levels have been fully converted to a temporary staffing model. Another way of dealing with a high turnover job is to use a rotating group of auditioning contingent workers who you can use to keep work flowing, while giving workers a chance to demonstrate their special interest in or talent for the work to be performed. This auditioning process allows you to “always be hiring” while outsourcing much of the staffing costs to a third party employer. 8. Are there jobs under your direction where the morale of the work group seems to be an issue? Or where a large number of employees are no longer on their A-game? In large teams performing repetitive tasks, there are oftentimes cycles in employee performance that can be managed just like any other business cycle. If your productivity goals are such that all employees need to be on their A-game always, you might consider a more flexible staffing model that capitalizes on the opportunity to bring fresh new employees into your work group at just the right time—recycling employees who might have “burned out” into other work or jobs. 9. Is your team undergoing significant process changes? Bringing on new ways of working? New technologies? Periods of rapid or longer term change are often times when you need to slow down your commitments to core hiring and convert to a more flexible and short term work model. It is not unusual for work groups dealing with extended periods of uncertainty or change to be composed of more temporary than core workers. 10. How much of your operating budget can you devote to temporary or contingent staff? Many companies that monitor hiring levels carefully will at the same time provide considerable budget dollars for temporary/interim staff. One of the ways to add to your workforce without breaking full time employee (FTE) rules is to identify an employee you want to hire and instead of hiring them directly, you use an “employer of record” service through a third-party employer service. This staffing strategy avoids most of the hidden costs associated with core employees, retains the flexible component of an hourly employee who can go in and out of your workforce “at will”, plus protects your current core employees from the stress of trying to do more than they have core FTE to do. For more information about ways to drive down fixed costs by using flexible workforce strategies, contact the PACE Staffing Network at infodesk@pacestaffing.com.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

In Pursuit of Accountability

by Jeanne Knutzen | June 26, 2013

0 Blog, Human Resource Roles Contract Employees, Fearless Leadership, Loretta Malandro, Managers, PACE Staffing Network, Seattle Staffing, Seattle Staffing Industry, Seattle Temporary Staffing, Temporary Employees

Despite the countless management and leadership books written about the virtue of accountability, according to most employees there are significant gaps between management’s knowing and doing when it comes to accountability. Most employees don’t rate their organizations highly in terms of their ability to hold individuals or teams accountable. While they believe they are personally accountable, they don’t always believe that others in their organization are held to the same “high” standards. Well intended managers can oftentimes fuel these perceptions. Excuses like “they’re new to the job,” or “I probably wasn’t clear in my directions,” can sound more like “permission” to underperform or the avoidance of a difficult conversation, than the commitment to fairness it might otherwise represent. The opposite track, an organization being too quick to act or terminate an employee whose results are off target (i.e. “John’s outcomes are awful. He needs to go,”) can often keep a team from looking at larger issues in market conditions or organizational performance that aren’t about John’s performance. Additionally, a manager who is slow to coach and fast to terminate can erode an organization’s commitment to its employees. Management 101 teaches us that by helping our employees to become more accountable, we make our teams more productive. The opposite is also true. When management drifts away from the habits of “accountability,” a culture of finger pointing, blame, and gossip often takes hold. Issues in productivity and outcomes, almost always follow. Unfortunately, individual managers—senior, middle, and entry level leadership roles—don’t always understand their personal role in an organization’s “accountability culture.” While most managers believe they do a good job of holding their team members accountable, it’s sometimes difficult to see how others are doing the same. When the going gets tough and results are off target, even high performing managers can look to “others”—a better resourced competitor, an underperforming colleague, an overly demanding customer, or an insensitive senior management—as the reason for their own subpar outcomes.  Anytime a manager takes their eyes off their own performance and looks for explanations of outcomes outside themselves, the organization’s “culture” of accountability suffers. In her book Fearless Leadership, Loretta Malandro, PhD., says that, for a business to create an accountability culture management accountability must be 100 %—each manager must become “personally accountable for their impact on people, even if others accept zero accountability.” Dr. Malandro is clearly stating the management challenge; it always has to start within. Managers also need to understand that the drift in an organization’s accountability culture typically happens slowly, then suddenly. While accountability is an intellectually simple concept, in reality it is both emotionally and behaviorally complex. For managers who take their mission to develop people seriously, they must find that just-right balance between holding people accountable and empowering them to make mistakes. Their goal is to help employees work from their strengths, while making sure their weaknesses don’t knock them over. Even a well thought out decision to terminate an underperforming but high impact employee, requires careful organizational planning that almost always involves others—which means that many accountability decisions can’t be made in a vacuum, outside the context of the team and its customers. This is a long way of saying that the balancing acts that in their aggregate reflect how you or your company is managing “accountability” are as easy and straight forward as others would like. It is my belief that a fully accountable culture represents an aspirational vision that is rarely fully achieved, but can produce a whole lot of small but “made a difference” successes along the way. So how do individual managers go about creating a culture of accountability? We have a handful of suggestions, starting with a good reflection of where you are now. Go through some of the checklists we’ve provided below and rate yourself on a scale of 1 -5—with 5 being the highest of the rankings and 1 the lowest. How are you managing your own team?

Self-Rating

1. CLEAR EXPECTATIONS. Does each team member know specifically what is being expected of them? How their work will be measured and/or evaluated?
2. ONGOING, HONEST FEEDBACK. Do team members regularly get all of the metrics and/or the feedback they need to evaluate their own work? Do they know at all times how I am viewing their work and outcomes?
3. ADDRESSING PERFORMANCE ISSUES. Do I follow up quickly to work more closely with team members whose results are off target? Do I listen carefully for obstacles, and coach them on ways to overcome them? Do I have clear processes in place to make sure that any potentially job threatening issues are escalated clearly and appropriately?
4. INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT. Do I manage each member of my team as an individual, setting individual performance goals and avoiding comparisons with other team members?
5. PLANNING AND FOLLOW UP. When my team and I are discussing options, do I follow up to make sure what work needs to be done and by whom? That my priorities are clear? Do I regularly follow up on promised deadlines or benchmarks so that I physically inspect work in progress to ensure that each team member is completing work as promised?

Total Score

  How are you conducting yourself as a company leader?

Self-Rating

1. PERSONAL ROLE MODELING. When things go wrong, do I walk the talk of personal accountability—avoid making excuses or blaming others over explaining myself? Do I personally model my own “empowerment; engaging my team in ways to overcome obstacles, solve problems,   and make progress?
2. COACHING. DEVELOPING OTHERS. Do I spend enough time coaching others to success, avoiding   getting disappointed or angry when a team member doesn’t “get it?” Do I look for ways for my employees to work from strengths, even if that means some adjustments in how work gets done?
3. TRANSPARENCY. Do I make sure I always work from a plan, making my personal contribution to company goals transparent to my boss and colleagues?
4. WORD CHOICES. Do my word choices set a tone with the team and others of “positive problem solving” around things we can control, rather than focusing too heavily on issues and obstacles we can’t?
5. TEAMMEMBER SUPPORT. Do I always communicate in ways that demonstrate my respect for others, my ability to find value in “different” people, talents and perspectives? Do I avoid conversations with team members or colleagues that are more about gossip than problem solving? Do I listen when issues are brought forward, but avoid lengthy discussions about another team member’s performance?

Total Score

  Are you avoiding the assumptions that can erode the habits of accountability?

Self-Rating

1. Good team members always understand what’s expected of them. Am I mindful that clarifying expectations is an ongoing process?
2. Good team members will automatically self-correct. When a mistake is made or a ball dropped, do I help others determine what they will do differently next   time?
3. Everyone knows what I do/what I’m accountable for. Do I demonstrate daily the transparency in my own work that I want from others?
4. Everyone knows what changes need to be made now. How often am I communicating about change, and what we need to be doing differently?   How clear am I about my team’s priorities?

Total Score

  Accountability is an important element in the work we do to help our clients find and place the right employee for each request we fill—either for a job candidate to be hired by our client directly, a short term temporary or contract assignment, or a complex project level assignment involving full team engagement. We always want to know what each of our employees is accountable to produce—what outcome our client needs them to achieve. One of the important side benefits of “temporary” workers is that their accountabilities can generally be defined in simple terms, “achieve this result in this way, ” but the degree to which our customers can spell out these simple statements, the greater the probability that our employee will perform as expected. Our client’s chances for a successful temporary or contract assignment are directly impacted by the quality of information they can provide to all of their employees up front about their business (the context) and their expectations (the deliverable). NancyWe also encourage our clients to provide their temporary and contract employees with timely feedback relative to those expectations—as early in the assignment as possible and as ongoing as is needed. Many issues in employee performance, particularly in temporary or contract roles, stems from the employees not clearly understanding the client’s expectations. Keep in mind many temporary and contract employees go from assignment to assignment with their client’s expectations changing at each assignment. Early course corrections to clarify your expectations can make a huge difference. If you’d like to discuss any of these editorial comments, feel free to contact me at nancys@pacestaffing.com. I’m Nancy Swanson, Vice President of Partnership Development for the PACE Staffing Network.      

Your 1099 Employees – Avoiding the High Costs of Misclassifications

by Jeanne Knutzen | April 24, 2013

0 Blog, Human Resource Roles, What's New in Staffing? 1099, 1099 workforce, Independent Contractors, PACE Staffing Network, Seattle Staffing, Seattle Staffing Agency, Seattle Temporary Staffing, Temporary Staffing, Workers Compensation

While companies who have effectively used independent contractors to provide quick and easy access to specialized talent or consulting expertise are often considered amongst our most nimble, some of these same companies have recently found themselves facing hefty bills for back taxes, or complicated law suits stemming from workplace accidents or injuries involving a member of their 1099 workforce. Here’s the deal, if the IRS determines that a worker originally considered “independent” was actually an employee, companies can find themselves liable for unpaid Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment taxes. The IRS couldn’t be clearer, they see “employee misclassification” as a source of hidden revenue, and has budgeted several billion dollars to “identify and prosecute” employee misclassification issues. But unpaid taxes aren’t the only risk associated with the 1099 workforce. Additional issues have developed around workplace accidents where, because a worker was classified as an independent contractor and not covered under the employer’s Workers Compensation policies, the employer was not protected from the limited liability provisions of Workers Compensation and found themselves sued for double and triple damages. A nuance in Washington State law is that employers who use Independent Contractors are required to pay the Workers Compensation insurance and the state’s SUTA tax on hours and dollars paid to their 1099 workers. Not all states have this provision, nor do all employers in the State of Washington abide by this little known component of our state law. Bottom line, employers are at risk of incurring serious damage costs from a workplace injury by an “independent contractor.” One of the confusions we have seen employers make regarding their use of “independent contractors” stems from the mistaken notion that if the “contractor” is legal, meaning they have a business license or legitimate UBI (tax ID)  number, then they automatically pass the “test”, and can be considered “independent”.  The IRS, on the other hand, makes it clear that the “legality” of the claim of independent contractor status lies with the nature of the work to be performed and the degree of control the employer has over how and when it is performed.   The IRS offers several tests an employer can use to determine a worker's status:

  • The degree of control over the worker’s behavior, which addresses the extent to which an employer controls the work performed. The more control an employer has over how a worker performs the work—specifying where, when, and how the work is done—the less likely the worker will be considered “independent.” Employers who place their independent contractors on work teams with required hours of work, mandatory attendance at meetings, required collaborations around work products, etc., often put an independent contractor at risk of being re-classified as an employee, subject to all the provisions and benefits available to an employee.
  • The degree of control over a worker's financial opportunity, which relates to how a worker gets paid for the work performed or reimbursed for the costs they incur in performing the work. The more control an employer has over a workers total source of income, the less likely that worker will be considered “independent.” An agreement to pay a regular wage/salary for example, can be just as suspect as is an agreement to pay a worker hourly, but with an estimated work schedule of 40 hours each week. Work agreements that tie a worker to an employer who then becomes their sole source of income, suggests a less than “independent” relationship with that employer. A related financial consideration is how much personal investment the worker has in the tools they use.  Are they using their own tools/equipment or the company’s tools/equipment?
  • The type of relationship that is formed between worker and company, oftentimes construed as the exclusivity of the relationship, or the duration of the work commitment. Case law around the permanency of a relationship suggests that work assignments intended to last six months or longer better support the notion that a worker is an employee, compared to shorter term work arrangements. A related factor is whether or not the worker is free to pursue other business opportunities during the term of their agreement to provide their personal services to a company. If an employer is asking or assuming someone will work 40 hours/week on their behalf, it is hard to make the argument that they are free to pursue business opportunities elsewhere.
Unfortunately, case law on the use of these IRS tests to determine employee or independent status is riddled with inconsistent outcomes, making it hard for businesses to make quick, definitive classification decisions. An employer who wants to fully protect themselves can file IRS Form SS-8, Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding. The downside, it often takes several months to get a response on a particular request. In light of the growing number of state or federally generated tax audits, we are seeing more and more companies who have historically relied on independent contractors for specialized work in the IT, engineering, or other professional services areas now looking differently at that staffing solution. Some companies have elected to hire these workers directly; others have elected to end long term relationships with 1099 contractors, sometimes leaving significant expertise holes in their organizations. A third option involves a new category of staffing service that allows an employer to continue to utilize their highly valued but flexible 1099 workforce, while avoiding the legal or financial risks being created by the revitalized audit efforts of state and federal agencies. The PACE Staffing Network now offers a full range of  Employer of Record services that can quickly and cost-effectively convert a client’s current 1099 workforce into a “legally compliant” W2 workforce without adding the additional costs normally attributed to a core workforce. The PACE Staffing Network regularly provides Employer of Record services to customers who are looking to optimize workforce flexibility, while avoiding the risk of unforeseen liabilities. For a complimentary discussion about how your company currently uses 1099 contractors and the options you have to mitigate the risk of misclassification, contact infodesk@pacestaffing.com.

When is Work, Work?

by Jeanne Knutzen | March 7, 2013

0 Blog, Human Resource Roles Employer of Record services, Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, FLSA, Non-Exempt Employees, PACE Staffing Network, Seattle Staffing, Seattle Staffing Agency, Temporary Workforce

Under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), all non-exempt employees must be paid the minimum wage for all hours worked in a work week and must be paid overtime at the rate of 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a work week. What isn’t often discussed is what hours of work or work related activity must be included in the count of hours of work paid at either regular or overtime rate. We run into these issues periodically when working with our hourly paid flexible workforces. Whether these workers are categorized as exempt or non-exempt, they must be paid for all hours of work. The following is a list of situations where we frequently field questions from our clients:

  • Pre and Post-Job Activities. All job-related activities required as a part of an employee’s work must be calculated as hours of work.  This includes work performed either before or after the employee’s  actual work schedule and includes pre-start orientations, required after hours meetings, or any hours spent by workers for their employer’s (or our client’s) benefit. Examples of time to be paid would be the time it takes to complete a time card, to change in or out of required work clothes or equipment, to assemble materials needed to perform the work, or to receive instructions about the work—all are considered hours worked and the employee must be paid.
  • Waiting Time. Employees who arrive at a work site early—earlier  than the required start time—are not automatically entitled to be paid for any time they spend waiting to begin work.  However, if an employee reports at the required time and then waits because there is no work to start on, the waiting time is compensable.
  • Stand-By Time. Workers who are required to stand-by at a worksite “ready” to work, must be paid for this waiting time.  Stand-by time typically refers to short-term time periods where a worker is not officially working but is asked to “stand-by” ready to work. The defining rule for stand-by time is that if the employee remains under the employer’s control to the point where they cannot use their time for their own purpose or benefit, the stand-by time must be paid. 
  • On-Call Time. On-Call time is different from Stand-By time in that it includes time spent by an employee “available” to be called into work while free to pursue activities for their own benefit. The FLSA requires employers to compensate workers for on-call time when such time is spent “predominantly for the employer’s benefit.” This means that an employee, who is only required to be available for work if asked, is not considered working and is not paid for their time on-call.
  • Meal and Break Periods. Under FLSA rulings, time spent for meal or rest periods may or may not be compensable, depending on the amount of time provided for the break and to what extent the employee is relieved from their work duties while on break.
Bona fide meal periods need to be of sufficient duration (30 minutes or more) and free of work duties in order for the meal period to be exempt from required pay regulations. If, for example, an employee is asked to sit at their desk to answer phones during their lunch break, they should be paid for their meal break. While employers can have policies prohibiting employees from leaving the work site for a meal break, it is only when work is required of them during the break, that their time must be compensable. Rest periods, on the other hand for shorter periods (5 to 20 minutes) are always counted as hours worked.
  • Unauthorized Hours of Work. Employees who, with the direct or implied awareness of their employer, start work before their work is scheduled,  work through unpaid breaks,  or continue to work after their work schedule is officially over, are considered to be working during all these times periods and their time “at work” must be paid. This is true even if these hours of work were performed voluntarily and are considered by their employer to be “unauthorized.” If the work performed during these “unauthorized hours” benefits the employer, the FLSA requires that the employee be paid. This puts the burden on management to make certain that regular work time rules are rigorously enforced, perhaps even promising disciplinary action for employees who work in unauthorized ways.  Merely stating that all work be authorized is not sufficient.
For more information on the work rules outlined by FLSA regulations and as applied to either your temporary or hourly workforce, contact our infodesk@pacestaffing.com.

Top 10 Suggestions for Supervisors – 2013

by Jeanne Knutzen | February 14, 2013

0 Blog, Human Resource Roles Employee Evaluations, HR tips, human resources, Job Performance, Job Performance Evaluations, Management Tips, PACE Staffing Network, Seattle Staffing Agency, Temporary Staffing In Seattle, Work Place Environment

The following article was published by the ASA, as written by A. Kevin Troutman of Fisher & Phillips Law Firm.  As the New Year unfolds, supervisors may have even less time to manage all the complexities that arise in the world of employment law. With goals and deadlines to meet, well-intentioned managers may be tempted to rely on experience and “common sense” to guide them. Unfortunately, this approach often creates headaches and even litigation, despite managers’ good intentions. Today’s alphabet soup of employment laws (ADA, ADEA, FMLA, OSHA, NLRB, etc.) are simply too vast and complicated for most supervisors to digest on their own. Other issues are so subtle or counterintuitive that even seasoned HR professionals can find it difficult to recognize and/or deal with them. There is a silver lining to this cloud. A few basic practices can help supervisors avoid many problems—or at least recognize when to turn to HR for guidance. 1. Always tell employees the truth This rule encompasses more than avoiding outright falsehoods. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of making sure that employees always know how you assess their job performance. Of course this includes telling employees what they are doing well—but perhaps even more important, it means telling them how and where they are not meeting expectations. While many supervisors may prefer to avoid delivering “bad news,” this rule is an increasingly critical aspect of their jobs. Performance evaluations illustrate this point.  Audits routinely show that well over half of all evaluations rate employee performance above average, a de facto impossibility. Unfortunately, evaluations that overrate employees’ job performance can be devastating during litigation. Judges and juries are generally unsympathetic toward supervisors who suggest that they did not really mean what they wrote on a performance evaluation. This simple rule is so important that companies should consider discontinuing annual performance evaluations unless they can be done accurately and honestly. 2. Communicate clearly and directly Going a step beyond Rule No. 1, supervisors should expect employees to do their jobs and cannot let “politically correct” language obscure their message. Specifically, they must communicate clearly without being insensitive or disrespectful. For example, instead of telling an employee that he or she has an “opportunity” to improve, identify what specific aspects of performance are below expectations and what must be done to improve. Offer to assist, but make it clear that you expect improvement. When documenting these communications, be succinct and explicit. Always try to address “who, what, when and why.”  (As simple as it seems, this includes ensuring that documentation is legible, dated and signed where appropriate.) This rule applies to policy violations, poor attendance and simple coaching or reminder sessions. 3. Avoid surprises Many lawsuits result from anger or hurt feelings, which may be the result of an employee being surprised by disciplinary action or a termination. Remember, a supervisor’s silence is typically interpreted as approval, but if communication is consistent, clear and direct, employees should never be surprised by disciplinary action. They may not agree with the supervisor’s decision, but they should never be able to say truthfully that they did not see it coming. 4. Always get both sides of the story It’s surprising how often supervisors violate this simple rule. As a practical matter, there should be no exceptions to it. No matter how egregious or clear-cut the facts appear to be, always give accused employees a chance to tell their side of the story. (The only possible exception might be when there is a legitimate objective or safety concern that would prevent this from occurring.)  Consistent with this rule, do not document conclusions or prepare termination paperwork until the investigation is finished. 5. Keep your promises Don’t make promises that you cannot keep. Supervisors who promise to meet periodically with employees or to provide periodic feedback must do so. Again, jurors are unlikely to forgive supervisors who criticize an employee’s job performance, but fail to abide by their own follow-up schedule. So do not set deadlines or timetables that you cannot meet—instead, maintain some flexibility. Don’t make oral promises such as, “as long as you do your job, you will always have a place here.” In some states, these promises can be legally enforceable. 6. Do not ignore protected status in making employment decisions At first blush this rule may seem illogical, but when considering disciplinary action it is always important to consider how you have handled similar situations in the past. If an employee in a protected classification (race, sex, religion, age, disability, etc.) is treated differently under the same circumstances from someone who is not in the protected class, supervisors and HR must be able to justify the reasons clearly. When considering which employees fall in a protected classification, don’t overlook employees who recently took FMLA leave, sought an accommodation under the ADA, or provided information in response to an investigation of alleged workplace discrimination. These activities protect employees from retaliation and likewise require consideration of comparable situations where no employee had engaged in protected activity. 7. Think before hitting “send” Email traffic provides increasingly fertile ground for both sides in employment cases. Supervisors must therefore recognize that their email messages are potential trial exhibits. A quick, off-hand message has the potential to be extremely embarrassing if presented out of context to a jury. Therefore, it is never a good idea to fire off quick responses, especially when emotions are running high. Wait a few moments before hitting “send” and be especially careful about using the “reply to all” button. 8. Document important facts when they’re still fresh Important details can easily get muddled in today’s fast-paced work environment, so make a habit of jotting down those key facts when they occur. When doing so, be sure the documentation is dated, legible and understandable (see Rule No. 2). Always include objective language describing “who, what, when, where, why” and identify any witnesses. Identify the author of the documentation—sometimes nothing can be more difficult than retrospectively trying to determine who prepared unsigned material. 9. Send it to HR When supervisors keep files containing notes or information that has not been forwarded to HR, it almost always creates problems when litigation ensues. This can force the employer to change a representation it has already made to the EEOC or plaintiff’s counsel. More importantly, it can support a plaintiff’s contention that the supervisor (who is usually the alleged wrong-doer) cannot be trusted or is hiding something. On a related note, always refer employment verification and reference inquiries to HR, who will ensure company-wide consistency in responding. 10. Never forget that you are the boss Even during meal breaks, after hours, on weekends, or away from the workplace, supervisors still carry the mantle of company authority. Unguarded, inappropriate or “joking” comments can and do come back to haunt supervisors who forget this. When an employment relationship goes bad, seemingly innocuous comments often emerge. Comments made in jest rarely look good in front of a jury.  This is a critical and sometimes painful lesson for supervisors to learn. Bonus Rule 11 Always strive to be fair, consider “how would this look to a skeptical third party (like the EEOC or a jury) who knows nothing about me or the employee?” The workplace is complex and demanding, especially for supervisors striving to meet deadlines, maintain positive employee relations and avoid legal pitfalls. While they are not a “cure all,” these suggestions can help supervisors manage more effectively.