With the multitude of issues HR pros face, it can be difficult to know under which circumstances legal help is necessary. Because, when it comes down to it, there is no instruction manual.
Employment attorney Daniel Schwartz, of Connecticut Employment Law Blog, admits it’s tricky to know when something can be handled by HR or if a lawyer needs to be brought in. Sometimes companies try to avoid legal costs and are overly reliant on their HR staff when they shouldn’t be.
When to call for backup
There is no definitive answer, but Schwartz compiled the following list of instances when you’ll most likely need a lawyer:
- You get a letter from a lawyer threatening legal action. This is an obvious one, but if an employee wants to sue, this is definitely an issue beyond the capabilities of an HR pro. As soon as you’re contacted by a lawyer, you need to contact yours.
- You get a notice from a state or federal agency about an investigation. This could be regarding wage and hour laws, discrimination or safety issues, etc. But anything involving the DOL or the EEOC can turn into something big, so it’s best to call in a lawyer.
- You need to conduct a workplace investigation. Some minor investigations can be dealt with by HR, but a lawyer can help you deal with more complicated issues. For example, if you’re dealing with sexual harassment claims and want to keep the investigation confidential, a lawyer is your best bet.
- You’re dealing with an issue that has no clear legal answer. HR pros are perfectly capable of having discussions with employees about reasonable accommodations. But what happens when an employee is injured on the job or has exhausted their FMLA leave? These situations, if not handled properly, could lead to lawsuits. It’s best to consult a lawyer first to avoid any missteps.