If you work in Human Resources, consistency is probably one of your defining traits. After all, when it comes to most aspects of your job – policies and procedures, documentation, training, treatment of employees – fairness is key. While maintaining consistency is crucial, there are times when you should can have too much of a good thing.
Sometimes Leniency is Perfectly Acceptable
A rigid adherence to consistency flows through the blood of many HR professionals. This is understandable, given the ever-present fear of lawsuits in a society where discrimination claims are rampant. But instead of being governed by fear, experts recommend you ease up a little in certain circumstances and instead, let fairness be your guide and values, your moral compass.
Don Grinfas, an attorney at Buchanan, Angeli, Altschul & Sullivan in Portland, Oregon, shares how some employers are taking things too far. “What I hear repeatedly is the worry that doing something new or different in a particular situation with a particular employee will set a ‘precedent’ that forever more binds the company,” he explains. “And that’s not the case, particularly in a nonunion setting…it’s OK to deviate from standard practice in special circumstances, so long as you document the reasons for that deviation. The company can later demonstrate its legitimate reasons should a future employee…(claim) discrimination.”
Monica Whalen, J.D., former president and CEO of the Employers Council legal services firm and now an executive consultant in Salt Lake City, agrees with Grinfas’ assessment and has advice of her own for HR professionals. “Do not blindly jump to conclusions with a mindset of, ‘This is what the policy says, therefore we must do X.’ That can lead to unreasonable and inhumane decisions in certain cases. HR has flexibility to weigh the circumstances and decide what is best, even if it deviates from policy or past practice—as long as the decision is not based on a protected class such as race, age, sex, etc.”
What should you do when a situation arises, and you are unsure whether to “stick to your guns” or perhaps take a more lenient approach? As an HR professional, you’ll need to take a thoughtful, careful look at all the facts. Consider intangibles such as length of service, work record, the needs of your practice and other factors in order to make the best decision for both the company and the employee. Remember, the policy manual is a document that may be open to interpretation depending on the scenario. You aren’t required to adhere to every word on every page every time. Bottom line? Think for yourself and apply fairness. So long as those two things happen, you have nothing to fear from the legal system.