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Human Resources

How to Prevent HR Compliance Mistakes

Christine Batten, PHR
by Christine Batten, PHR on January 31, 2017

hr-compliance-mistakes .jpgWhen you’re busy running a business, HR is probably the last thing you want to deal with. But learning to recognize issues, and prevent HR compliance mistakes, is key to preventing potentially serious mistakes. Not only will it save you the headache, but it can help protect your business against what could be very expensive legal claims. Sometimes, there are obvious red flags. Other times, the hints are more subtle.


When an employee comes to you with a “complaint,” whether written or verbal, you need to recognize this as a potential problem. You may be the first company representative to receive the employee’s complaint, so how you handle it from the beginning significantly affects whether or not a small problem will escalate into an HR compliance mistake.

Our Advice: Listen to the employee’s concerns and assure them the company takes all complaints seriously. This is important regardless of whether you think the employee’s complaint has merit. Your opinion on the employee’s credibility or their tendency to complain about trivial matters is irrelevant. Do not share or notate your personal opinions. Simply document the complaint and investigate it, or report it to the proper person.

Consider the following:

  • Is the employee suggesting he/she is treated differently than other employees (discrimination)?
  • Does the employee feel like he/she is being harassed?
  • Is the employee bringing something to your attention that needs to be addressed with other employees (harassment, safety violations, management issues, etc.)?
  • Could there be an issue with the payment of wages (overtime, not paying all hours worked, improper deductions, etc.)?

Doctor’s Notes

When an employee hands you a doctor’s note, keep potential HR compliance issues in mind. Typically, an employee might hand you a doctor’s note for two reasons:

  • To explain or excuse an absence either past, present or future
  • To notify you they are unable to perform their job or a particular job function because of a medical issue

When you receive a doctor’s note, read it carefully to determine what course of action (if any) is necessary. If the company needs clarification or confirmation about the doctor’s note, you can request the employee get additional clarification from his/her doctor.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your company a covered employer under the Family Medical Leave Act (or other state leave laws) that would require certain leave and possible job protection for the employee?
  • Does your state have any paid leave laws to consider?
  • Do you need to begin the interactive process to determine if an accommodation is needed in order for the employee to perform the essential function of the job (pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act)?
  • Was there a work-related illness or injury that requires a workers’ compensation claim to be submitted?

Subtle Signs

By maintaining regular contact with employees, you can recognize subtle changes in an employee’s behavior or performance. Either of these could indicate potential HR problems.

Here are a few examples of subtle changes that could indicate a problem:

  • Progressive deterioration of personal appearance or hygiene
  • Decline in quality or work performance
  • Sudden or chronic absenteeism
  • Reports of unusual interactions with co-workers

If you notice any of the above, you should make sure to address the issues with the employee(s) to avert or address any existing issue, and prevent potential HR compliance mistakes. Remember, you represent the company in your interactions and dealings with employees. It is critical you make sure to spot and address potential employee problems.

Are Your HR Headaches Putting You at Risk?

Christine Batten, PHR
Christine Batten, PHR

Christine has over 20 years of HR related experience with a background in labor and employment law.