The theme for August has been about HR earning a reputation for being lazy. The Extra Mile isn’t THAT Far, Newbie Schnewbie, Eating Your HR Veggies, Don’t Be a Lazy HR Daisy , Giving Dewey Diligence, When Buzz Met Lazy and Trouble Shoots Tracy each address how lack of initiative and thoroughness in administrative tasks gives the profession a lazy reputation. In the final post of the lazy HR theme, I am going to share one more story of how lack of follow-through almost led to HR disaster.

Bobby was a new manager at a store location in Michigan. The employees immediately began testing Bobby to see if he would enforce the rules and/or discipline them. He recognized this and asked HR for advice on how to handle issues.  Each time, the local HR rep gave Bobby suggestions along with sections from the Handbook and Procedures Manual he could use to reinforce the directives.

About two months into Bobby’s tenure, he terminated a young lady who had chronic attendance issues. The young lady called to appeal.  She said she had never been warned about her attendance. She said her tardiness and absences were due to complications from a pregnancy, which she had provided documentation for. She provided me with doctor’s notes for all of the days she was out of work and another for treatment for severe morning sickness, which she claimed was the reason for her tardiness. She said her termination was a violation of her rights under the FMLA and demanded immediate reinstatement with compensation for the time she’d lost — and of course threatened a lawsuit if she didn’t get it.

When I contacted the local HR rep to get the warnings from her file where she’d been counseled for attendance, I was told there was nothing on file. The HR rep was puzzled because she knew she’d talked with the manager about writing the employee up for attendance issues on several occasions … So I contacted Bobby, who said he’d planned to write her up but got busy doing other things and by the time he got back to it, so much time had passed that he didn’t see the point of it. I asked if he’d seen any of the notes the young lady had shared with me; he said she’d brought in “papers” once or twice but he couldn’t remember what they said or what he did with them.

Great.

We had no choice but to reinstate this young lady to her position. Aside from the fact that her time away from work was clearly protected, both Bobby and the local HR rep had done a poor job of documenting the problem to ensure our decision could withstand legal scrutiny. That’s the whole point of documenting disciplinary action! If management fails to document their actions and notify the employee that their job is at risk if the issue persists, it’s a complete waste of time. It’s like it never happened!

I’m not sure that Bobby was aware of this. But the local HR rep definitely was!

That didn’t mean Bobby was blameless. He failed to give HR the full story about what was going on with the employee and he failed to follow through with the advice that he was given … or anything else for that matter.

Neither Bobby nor the local HR rep were happy about the decision … or the warnings they received as a result of the investigation into the issue. I can only hope they learned and will do better the next time.

Bobby should have learned that HR does not talk just to hear itself. When you call HR for advice on what to do about an issue, the expectation is you will follow through on what you are told in a timely manner. Bobby should have issued the warnings as soon as practical after talking to the local HR rep.

Bobby also should have learned to tell HR the whole story from the beginning. HR cannot give appropriate advice without all the facts. HR’s job is to keep management out of trouble because that keeps the company out of trouble. If HR only has bits and pieces of the story, it cannot effectively do that — and that can lead to even more trouble.

The HR rep should have learned the importance of following up on the follow through of directives given to other managers when dealing with issues. A few probing questions, a phone call or email to check on how things were going or to ask why a copy of the warning hadn’t made it to the employee’s file yet … and the situation probably could have been avoided.

Instead, the HR rep took the lazy way out and wiped her hands of the issue as soon as the advice was given. That’s not good enough. I understand it is important for HR to allow the rest of management the autonomy to make decisions and handle employee issues on their own. However, it is just as –if not more — important that we follow up on the follow-through of issues they ask our advice about.