11 Common Mistakes Employers Make

Let’s face it—as employers focusing in on business, we can too easily lose sight of the rocks and potholes that can come our way with our employees.   We think things are moving along well and WHAM! someone shares his or her distress over something or someone in the organization. These types of issues arise from a vast array of reasons, many resulting from a lack of clarity or focus within various areas of human resources.  Below are some mistakes employers make that only expand and exasperate the people-problems within an organization. Being aware of these bumps in the road may help you avoid them and keep your organization on track.  


1.        Having someone believe he or she is a leader, yet no one is following.  It is easy to say “I’m the leader;” it is another thing to ask your subordinates to follow you. Quality relationships must be the foundational core of any organization if it is to succeed.   No matter how accurate the policies and procedures are within an organization, without the foundation of relationships built upon trust and integrity, all policy will ultimately fail…and litigation could follow. To quote Dwight Eisenhower; “A leader stepping out with no one behind him is simply a person taking a walk.”   Managing is driven by authority or power, but leadership is achieved through influence.


2.      Not conducting a periodic human resource audit of your policies and practices.  Policies that made sense 5 years ago may be unlawful today and may serve as a breeding ground for litigation.   For example, how many of you tell employees that they cannot “moonlight” with a second job or share confidential wage information?   These are lawful practices in California, yet many organizations do not treat them as such.  Periodic audits of one’s policies and procedures to keep pace with changes in the law will minimize the risk of potential litigation.


3.      Not having an active, breathing employee handbook.  This is an all-too-common mistake.  There are all sorts of excuses for organizations not having an employee handbook (my personal favorite is, “We have great employees; no need!”).  No excuse, however, will help you once one of your employees files a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  One of the first things the investigator will ask is for a copy of the employee handbook that sets forth why you took the employment action in question.  The employee handbook is what answers the “what about” questions regarding employee practice and policy. Note that in many cases, an out-of-date handbook is worse, with a greater potential for liability, than not having a handbook at all.


4.      Failing to have proper, accurate job descriptions.  A clear description within a concise format describing the key responsibilities (5 percent or more of a job’s time) is vital if an employee is to know what is to be done on the job.   Coupled with a job description that is signed by the employee are the clearly established standards and/or goals of each job duty as well.   Without them, how can an employee know what “success” is within the position? Also, having inaccurate, out-of-date job descriptions can cause more confusion and frustration for employees than having no job descriptions.


5.      Calling someone an independent contractor, because it “works for me.”  An organization uses independent contractors and temporary employees for a variety of reasons. One of the key reasons is to avoid paying benefits and to limit employer liability.  Of course, it is also far easier to simply call someone an independent contractor rather than treat the person as an employee, especially when you only want the person there for a limited amount of time.    And temporary employees are only such for a period of 364 days.  On the 365th day the person becomes a regular employee.


6.      Seeing labor laws as a necessary evil versus an opportunity for trust building.  The law is outlined as something everyone has to follow, so why try to skirt it and make both your life and your employees’ lives miserable?  If you do not allow employees to follow a law that entitles them to certain rights, a lawsuit could result…and at an expense.


7.      Managers only receiving the performance review and instructions with no training.    A performance review is only as accurate as the person presenting it.   Without prior training in feedback, discipline, discrimination, leadership and organizational policies, it is not possible to conduct fair, non-discriminate performance reviews.   All too often a manager will give his or her comments and complete the review without having one piece of objective data or an event to support his or her comments.   This could be considered discrimination and if argued, would be one person’s word against another’s without actual data supporting the “job well done” or “unsatisfactory performance.”


8.      Having untrained management personnel.   The minute you call someone a manager (this is not a title but rather positional), he or she is automatically held to a higher standard than your employees and expected to represent your organization relationally, ethically and legally.  What he or she says can (and will) be used against you if an employee litigates. It will not matter how new the manager was. Employees coming from other organizations may have a good portfolio of training; however, how does one know it is proper and true and/or consistent with the policies of your organization?    Being a “buckaroo” manager and doing what you think or feel is right, yet acting differently from what the organization’s practices prescribe, can also lead to discrimination and litigation problems.


9.      Not having all termination decisions reviewed by a qualified central person.  When terminations arise, using a well-trained human resource person or legal counsel to review the issues and documentation before the termination is the best way to avoid unnecessary problems.  This person should be the “clearing-house” for all controversial firing decisions.  Not only will this person’s training enable him or her to spot problems, but it will also help provide consistency across the organization for employment decisions while avoiding potential discrimination problems.


10.     Bypassing all reference checks.  Many organizations (properly) have the policy that all requests for reference (with a signature of allowance) are answered in writing by human resources solely with a verification of employment, wages and dates only.  However, you would be surprised at how many employers do not follow that policy or just let it slip.  If a manager gives out information that is not one hundred percent truthful, with a bit of their opinion included, a problem could result.  On the other side, Theodore Roosevelt once shared “if you are willing to lie for me, someday you will lie to me.”  According to the American Management Association, over 50 percent of all applicants are not truthful on their resumes or applications.   It is vital to ensure that a job candidate is accurately represented on his or her resume by checking all references of employment and education from all past employers.


11.     Misclassifying employees.  Believing employees are exempt from overtime simply because you pay them a salary, call them “independent contractors” when they work only for you, or assuming no overtime is owed because they work for one part of the organization 5 hours in the morning and another part of the organization 5 hours in the evening can not only get you sued by the employees, but also it may very well bring up an audit by the Department of Labor or the IRS.  This is still the number one area of concern for the Department of Labor as it examines the labor practices of organizations across America.



Staying alert to these 11 common mistakes can help you avoid the potholes in the road and minimize the people-problems which every company faces. If you address these issues both properly and in a timely manner, your organization will be well on its way to being one to which anyone would be proud to belong.


About the author:


Ron Smedley is president of Synergistic Resource Associates, a full-service human resource/development consulting group that works directly with both marketplace and ministry organizations.  As a professional human resource generalist, Ron is often called upon in the area of labor law interpretation and policy/procedure writing with the focus on practically, strategically, and relationally synergizing the systems of the organization with the development of their leadership and employees.  Besides consulting full-time, Ron instructs graduate adult students at Biola University and Claremont Graduate Universities within leadership, performance management, personal and corporate conflict, human resource strategy and ethics courses.


Ron’s passion is seeing men, women and organizations grow beyond their paradigm and the “box” they so often place themselves within.  For questions or support surrounding this article or other people development areas, email him at ron.smedley@sraonline.net or call 714.993.5003. His office is located in Placentia, CA.


ronald smedley

synergistic resource associates

Amtec Bitz Newsletters

Essential industry highlights & expert insights every month.

Latest Posts

View all posts