Volume 37, Issue 2, February 2002

LegalEase

Shaky Times
How to Survive in the Now-Shaky Workplace
by David Barron

A mere year ago, surveys found that the number-one problem facing management was finding and keeping enough good employees to run their businesses. Now, because of events beyond anyone’s control, many industries are in trouble and employees across the country are deeply concerned about the future. The days of unhappy or unproductive employees simply moving on to the next job are gone, and managers and supervisors are now facing problems that most have not encountered previously in their careers. 

Layoffs
It seems that each news report includes another Fortune 500 company announcing layoffs—American Express, Enron, Motorola, to name a few. Additionally, after hovering for several years near 4 percent, the unemployment rate is now approaching 6 percent. 
What does all this mean for managers? Employees everywhere are concerned about their careers and their futures. Employees are asking tough questions about how their employer is doing and what the future holds for them. 

Now, more than ever, it is important for management to communicate with employees about the economy, the industry and what the future holds for the company. With some exceptions, employees appreciate the truth and will rise to the challenge. Instead of letting a sense of fear or uncertainty sweep over the workplace, experienced managers use these feelings to build a sense of the company working together to overcome adversity and to inspire employees to play a vital role in that process.

Immigration Crackdown
Another inevitable result of September 11 will be stronger attempts by the federal government to accomplish what most experts have said is an impossible task—cracking down on the nation’s immigration laws. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) estimates that there are more than 7 million illegal workers employed in the United States. 

In the glass industry and most others, it would be next to impossible to do business without these employees. For years, the understaffed and overwhelmed INS offices have looked the other way in order to keep the wheels of commerce turning. 
However, this is beginning to change as the public has demanded a strict enforcement of the immigration laws. The Bush Administration has already committed to a massive overhaul of INS and will be beefing up enforcement along the border as well as against employers. Prudent companies are already reviewing their hiring practices and employee documentation to ensure they are in compliance with the law. Following are three simple tips to remember in order to avoid running afoul of federal immigration laws. 

• Train managers on proper I-9 procedures and confirm that I-9’s are completed accurately and updated as required. 
• Retain all records, including documents shown at the time of hire to establish eligibility to work.
• Do not do anything that could be construed as smuggling or harboring illegal immigrants. Remember that as an employer you should
   not be involved in employee transportation or lodging except under extraordinary circumstances. 

Following these simple rules can help your company avoid the most serious of fines and penalties under federal law. 

Employee Lawsuits
Lastly, it is important for managers to recognize that in times of economic instability, employee lawsuits and agency claims inevitably increase. In a booming economy, an employee who feels that he or she has been harassed or discriminated against may simply move on to the next job down the street. Now that same employee may stay and fight. Moreover, the stress and uncertainty of times like these puts pressure on individuals both at work and at home that can manifest itself in a variety of unhealthy ways in the 
workplace. 

In the months ahead, it is crucial that supervisors and managers maintain an open-door policy and focus on addressing workplace problems early, before they spiral out of control and result in litigation, or worse yet, workplace violence. Although there is no magic answer on how to accomplish this goal, it begins with open communication between management and employees, and ensuring that supervisors and managers are trained and committed to navigating the troubled waters ahead. 

 

David Barron is an attorney at Alaniz and Schraeder 
in Houston. He represents employers in employment-
related matters.

USG

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