Hiring and the Law —Setting Expectations for New Employees

Devora L. Lindeman, Esq., Partner at Greenwald Doherty LLP, is providing us with insight and information regarding the hiring process. Ms. Lindeman is a management-side employment lawyer and has exclusively represented managers and companies in federal and state agencies and courts with regard to their labor and employment needs for many years.

Questions addressed to Ms. Lindeman may be addressed in this column.

Hiring and the Law
By Devora L. Lindeman, Esq.*

Question: I’ve got a great candidate.  How do I let her know from the start what I expect?

Answer: It’s important to keep in mind that new employees can only meet your expectations if you let the new hire know what they are.  Expectations are set for new employees in a number of ways.  As lawyers, we like to see this done so that when employees are let go for not meeting expectations and then try to claim the termination was wrongful or discriminatory, the employer can prove that the employee was (a) advised of the expectations; (b) corrected when expectations were not met; and (c) failed to meet the expectations despite correction and counseling.  Here are some steps employers can take at the outset to set employee expectations:

  • Make things clear in the job interview.  For example, ask questions along the lines of:  “while I understand emergencies happen, is there any reason you would not be able to be at your desk ready to answer the phones every day at 9:00 am?” Do not ask whether they have reliable transportation, how far away they live, or whether they have to take children to day care.  Their personal life is their business.  Ask them questions about the issues that concern you as their employer—can they be at work when you expect them to be there and perform the tasks you want them to do?
  • Prepare job descriptions.  Remember, a want ad and a job description are two different documents.  The want ad may list some of the duties and responsibilities you expect this position to perform.  However, a job description should more completely list the expectations of the job (including, of course, a catch-all statement along the lines of “and any other related duties as assigned by management” which prevents an employee from complaining that some task is “not on my job description.”)  Employees should receive and sign a job description when they start a job.
  • Have an employee handbook which outlines the basic policies you expect all employees to follow.  This handbook would have such things as your anti-discrimination and harassment policy; policies about attendance and paid time off; policies about when pay day is and how employees are expected to act at work and what they are expected to wear; policies about using the company’s computers and whether you permit cell phones at work.  In short, the employee handbook sets your expectations of your employees generally.  Have the employee sign an acknowledgement indicating that he or she received the handbook and knows it needs to be adhered to.
  • Have procedure manuals and memos that apply to specific jobs.  While you would expect a bookkeeper to already be skilled in bookkeeping, and a data entry clerk to know how to type, there will be certain aspects regarding how things are done at your company that are important to relay to your employees.  When your job descriptions are 5 pages long, you are really writing a procedure manual for a particular job.  Job descriptions are a page or two and tell what is expected.  Procedure manuals explain how to do it in more detail.  Again, have a sign-off page indicating the employee received the procedure manual for his or her job and knows it needs to be followed.

Having these documents in place will be helpful tools to assist your employees in meeting their expectations on the job.  They will also be helpful defenses from a legal viewpoint should the expectations not be met and the employee’s employment be terminated.

*Ms. Lindeman is a Partner at Greenwald Doherty LLP, a law firm that exclusively represents businesses in all aspects of labor and employment law.  These columns are intended to be general information regarding the topic discussed and are not to be considered legal advice regarding a specific situation. Contact a management-side employment attorney familiar with the law of your jurisdiction for specific advice.  Ms. Lindeman is admitted to practice law in NY and NJ and may be contacted at DL@greenwaldllp.com.  She is under no obligation to respond to reader inquiries personally, but may answer general employment law questions through this column.

© 2011 Greenwald Doherty.  May not be reprinted without permission.

As the law varies in each area, please check with an attorney to ensure you are applying these tips within the law.

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