12 Steps to Avoiding Liability

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This workbook is intended to offer helpful guidance to executives and high-level managers of public agencies on how to avoid liability. The 12 Steps to Avoiding Liability are based on the firm's many years of experience in advising and defending public agencies. Because "winning" is not winning the lawsuit, it's not getting into the lawsuit in the first place. Each of the Steps focuses on actions that an agency can take to avoid situations which commonly lead to or increase liability for public agencies. The Steps are meant to be general guides for quick reference by the executive without legalese or exhaustive detail.

In today's complicated society, managers and supervisors are expected to walk through a field of legal "land mines" on a daily basis. Federal and state constitutions, federal and state laws, local charters, ordinances, labor agreements, work rules, local arbitration decisions and personnel commission decisions define the laws public agencies must follow. This workbook is intended to serve as a basic survival kit. We hope the checklists included in the 12 Steps will assist you in analyzing a situation and pointing you in the right direction. While the 12 Steps are meant to be a practical guide to situations which commonly create liability for an agency, you should consult with your human resources department, agency attorney, and/or labor and employment attorneys regarding specific employee relations situations.

Topics Include:

  • Step 1 – Follow the Rules
    • The Consequences of an Agency Failing to Follow Its Rules
    • Failure to Follow Rules May Be a Plaintiff’s Main Evidence in a Discrimination Lawsuit
    • Checklist on How to Avoid Violations of an Agency’s Rules
  • Step 2 – Train and Retrain
  • Step 3 – Establish an Effective Hiring and Employee Retention Process
    • Have Good Reasons for Your Hiring Decisions
    • Avoid the Appearance of Favoritism
    • Retain Your Good Employees by Mentoring and Rewarding
  • Step 4 – Accountability for All
    • Performance Evaluations Must Be Accurate
    • The Importance of Documentation and Recordkeeping
    • Empower Your Human Resources Department
  • Step 5 – Be Honest, Consistent, and Fair
    • Honesty
    • Consistency
    • Fairness
  • Step 6 – Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
    • Principles of Effective Communication
    • Dealing with the Public and the Media
    • Listen to Your Employees
    • Communicate Through Training and Performance Evaluations
    • Communicate Expectations
    • Communication Requires Feedback
    • Avoid Stray Remarks
  • Step 7 – Pick Your Battles Wisely
    • Be Realistic – Management Will Not Prevail in Every Labor Relations Dispute
    • Think Broadly and Long Term
    • Successful Labor Negotiations Involve More Than Financial Goals
    • Realize That Change Is Unsettling and Threatening to Employees
  • Step 8 – Investigate before It’s Too Late
    • Investigations Should Be Conducted Promptly
    • Agencies Must Follow Their Own Rules During Investigations
    • If Investigations Reveal Violations of Rules or Law, Act Promptly to Remedy the Situation and
    • Prevent Recurrences
  • Step 9 – Due Process Matters
  • Step 10 – Everything Is “Discoverable”
    • Most Documents Constitute Public Records under the Public Records Act
    • Careless Statements in E-Mails Are a Plaintiff’s Best Friend
    • The Brown Act
  • Step 11 – Litigate to Win!
    • Help Your Attorney Help You!
    • All Testimony Should Be Taken Seriously
    • Checklist for Testifying as a Witness
  • Step 12 – Don’t Take It Personally

This document is provided as a benefit to Liebert Library subscribers and cannot be shared outside of their organization. The information contained within is a template only and is not designed to address the specific and unique issues, internal rules, practices, and/or governing documents that might be in place at your organization. You should always consult with legal counsel prior to implementation of any documents.

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