Ask the right question

On Friday, there was a human resources post by Suzanne Lucas and Alison Green that was so creative and simple, I wish I had written it.  The concept: Compile a list of things that an employer can do without breaking the law.

If you haven’t seen it from my Twitter feed, go read it now.  (Jon Hyman, of the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, followed it up this morning with a list of 10 more things that are legal.)

Here are a few examples:

  • It’s legal to fill a job without advertising it and giving other people a chance to apply for it.
  • It’s legal to ban dating among coworkers.
  • It’s legal not to hire someone because they don’t seem enthusiastic about the job.

But I want to go in another direction from that post: Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for an employer to do.

For example: It may be “legal for [an] employer to have a random coworker deliver the message that you’re fired.”  But guess what? It’s probably not a good idea.

Why? In part, because the fired employee is likely to have hurt feelings and get angry that his or her boss didn’t even have the “guts” to fire the employee in person.  (See also: Firing by e-mail or text message.)  Angry employees may be more inclined to file a lawsuit, costing the employer time and money.

Sometimes, employers look for an answer to the first question, “is it legal?” without answering the bigger picture question of, “is it a good idea?”  Answering that second question can come by asking yourself several related questions:

  • What will be the ramifications for our workplace if we decide to implement a new rule?  How will it be received among our workforce?
  • Are we increasing the risk of a lawsuit in the way we fire or discipline an employee?
  • How will other employees perceive of the action?
  • What effect will our decision have on the workplace culture?

There are lots of other ways to look at this, but just remember: Just because something may be “legal” doesn’t mean its a good idea for your workplace.