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Employment Counseling

Employers and employees must work together every day to remain as productive and harmonious as possible. Employment counseling helps bridge the gap between the employee and the employer by bringing them together to resolve any issues with an employee’s performance that may arise.

Counseling employees to improve their performance is the job of the management team and executives who are overseeing the workforce every day. These very same people are tasked with creating a productive working environment, evaluating employees, and ensuring that employees are growing in their positions. Companies should speak to an experienced employment lawyer for advice and to learn more about employment counseling. Moreover, a business should do the following:

  • Search for the best talent and assign employees to the appropriate positions or tasks based on their skill level, education, and experience.
  • Ensure that its applications and testing processes are ethical and legal.
  • Counsel and discipline employees appropriately and provide remediation and opportunities for improvement instead of moving quickly to termination.

How Do Companies Find the Most Talented Candidates?

Although employment counseling deals primarily with helping current employees perform well in their jobs, companies must first find the most talented candidates for each position. The most talented and skilled applicant is more likely to get the job done and remain productive over a long period of time.

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A company that uses skills tests and advertises job listings across a broad range of demographics is more likely to find the best person for the job. Although these efforts will not eliminate the need for employment counseling, hiring managers can ensure that the business is finding qualified candidates. At the same time, the business is introducing less strife and ineffectiveness into its work environment. Employees can be assigned to the best possible jobs given their skills, and the business remains as efficient as possible.

Companies can speak to an employment lawyer about a job search when it is unclear how to find the best candidate. Using ethical and appropriate processes is better for everyone involved and helps avoid employee complaints or struggles in the future.

How Do Companies Know if Their Applications Are Ethical or Legally Appropriate?

Employees who are hired by the company should be hired ethically and legally. A business must take the time to ensure that its applications and testing methods are appropriate. In the absence of a legal or ethical application process, the business could be liable for discrimination claims under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, or Pennsylvania state laws regarding employment discrimination.

An employment lawyer can determine if a company is following ethical and legal hiring practices, or if there appears to be bias or an adverse impact on protected classes.

How Do Companies Discipline Their Employees Legally and Ethically?

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Corporate discipline has long been a confusing and frustrating issue for any business. The company must understand how to appropriately discipline its employees, remediate them, or terminate those that may need to find employment elsewhere. Remediation and counseling are now seen as the most appropriate form of discipline.

Businesses must be careful not to terminate employees at the first sign of an issue. The company should review who in the past has been terminated, why, and what the previous process was leading up to the termination. If the business has engaged in a pattern of hiring and firing that adversely impacts a protected class, the company may be held liable for violations of civil rights and/or discrimination laws.

Employment counseling, then, becomes the simplest and most effective way to effectively allow employees the opportunity to correct and improve their performance. When the employee has been counseled appropriately, they are likely to improve. If they do not improve after a process of counseling and opportunities to correct their behavior, terminating their employment may be the right choice. In effect, the business is showing its efforts to retain employees and see them thrive in their positions.

Employment counseling does not seek to assign blame. A program such as this helps employees perform their work tasks appropriately under a mentor’s guidance.

In addition to documentation of all problems involving the employee, the employer should consider how counseling might benefit valued employees. Everyone in the office was hired for a reason, and retaining that employee is more affordable than letting them go, searching for a new employee, training the new employee, and waiting for a new employee to be onboarded successfully. In the meantime, the business has fallen behind on critical work that must be completed.

An employment lawyer can provide assistance when it is unclear how thorough each employee’s counseling program should be. Keep in mind that all counseling sessions must be properly documented for each employee’s personnel file.

How Can Employees Be Counseled?

Employment counseling is nothing more than a meeting between the employee and their supervisor, manager, or mentor. Employees can be counseled by a mentor, their immediate supervisor, or someone else who is assigned to them as soon as they are hired. Counseling sessions may be ongoing as the employee completes training, and counseling may continue as the employee receives monthly, quarterly, or yearly performance evaluations.

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Counseling, however, does not need to be noted on the corporate calendar to remain effective. Employees may be counseled at any time if their performance is suffering or if someone in the office notices the employee’s performance has decreased.

Employment counseling becomes a stop-gap measure that allows the employee to get back on track before the business suffers adversely as a result of a drop in performance. Companies should speak to an employment lawyer about a corporate employment counseling program that is right for the business. Moreover, proper documentation of all counseling sessions with workers must be made clear to all managers and mentors. Clear documentation will protect a company in the event an employee claims that there were treated unfairly or disproportionately as other employees.

Are Companies Responsible for Counseling All Their Employees?

Business owners or executives are not expected to counsel all their employees at the same time. A mentor can be assigned to everyone working for the company so that it is clear mentoring and counseling are part of the corporate culture.

These duties can be delegated to a range of people throughout the office. By doing this, the business does not give too much responsibility to any one person. When an employee has been with the company for some time, they may be available to mentor new hires.  If an employee’s performance continues to decline despite ongoing training and mentoring, the person’s manager should step in to implement formal counseling and discipline. The employee should be presented with goals and specific performance measures, and a timeline for improvement.

What Types of Employment Counseling Are Appropriate?

Although employers would like to step in and help their employees get back on their feet, the employee should be referred to a licensed therapist, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist for counseling if they are experiencing deep emotional and/or personal issues. Most businesses want to help, but certain situations are simply outside the expertise level of a manager or executive who is trying to act as a mentor.

This does not mean that the employer cannot try to provide assistance. It may be helpful for a manager or supervisor to know that an employee is struggling. When an employee says that their marriage is suffering, for example, the employer might try to provide alternative work options to help the employee. Although that employee should be referred to a licensed professional, the business is doing what it can.

When a supervisor or manager can provide counseling, they have several options. Counseling might be characterized in the following ways:

  • Direct
  • Nondirective
  • Cooperative
  • Cathartic conversation
  • Getting a new perspective on the situation
  • Building a new routine

Direct counseling involves the manager, supervisor, or mentor directly asking questions and offering insight into the situation. Although this form of counseling is helpful if the employee is willing to listen, some employees may be too guarded to hear what the supervisor, manager, or mentor has to say.

Nondirective counseling comes from the person or client-centered therapeutic strategies developed by the American psychologist Carl Rogers in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Rogers did not ask pointed questions of his clients. He did not diagnose his clients, and he did not try to delve into the underlying issues regarding their feelings. In short, the manager, supervisor, or mentor wants to know what the situation looks like in the employee’s eyes. Managers and supervisors often forget this part of the process because it may have been a long time since they were in the employee’s position.

Although Rogers did not expect his clients to cure themselves, he wanted to hear their stories. Employers may be surprised by what they hear when listening carefully to employees. For example, an employee who attempts to exert control over too many processes in the office or who seems to be insubordinate might have a personal story that speaks to this behavior. A mentor might hear the employee’s story of how they almost died of cancer as a teenager during employment counseling meetings. Any reasonable person can understand why that employee would want to be in complete control of anything they do.

Cooperative counseling allows both the employee and the manager, supervisor, or mentor to work together to solve the problem. In some cases, the supervisor may need to compromise to help the employee improve. This is especially true if the business might have inadvertently violated civil rights or disability laws when assigning tasks or setting up a workspace.

Cathartic conversations are helpful in highly stressful situations in which one or both parties have simply not discussed their problems. A supervisor or executive can bring all involved parties into a room and allow them to share their feelings in a safe space. This cathartic conversation can lead to problem solving that will get the employees back on track.

As supervisors, managers, or mentors are speaking to their employees, they should offer a fresh take on the situation where applicable. This idea comes from the narrative therapy movement. In this type of counseling, the employee can learn to separate themselves from their problems. Instead of allowing the employee to say they are an ineffective employee, the manager can simply explain some of their work was ineffective. The employee is a good person who was hired for a reason, and they merely need to return to their former good performance. Setting forth clear performance objectives and a timeline for completion will help the employee know exactly what is expected of them.

Employees may also need help building a new routine. The routine that is created will help the employee remain productive in the future. This person is likely capable of completing all the work necessary for their job, but they may need help organizing their workflow or managing themselves in a particular office environment.

An employment lawyer can provide assistance when employment counseling is needed, and the management team is unsure how to proceed. Counseling should be consistent for all employees with equal opportunities and a plan for their performance to improve.

What is an Appropriate Counseling Session Agenda?

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When managers, supervisors, or mentors have counseling sessions with employees, they should meet with an employee one on one in private. The employee should be told that this is a counseling session to address performance concerns and set forth a plan for improvement.

As the meeting begins, the manager, supervisor, or mentor should do the following:

  • Outline the performance or inappropriate behavior
  • Explore the issues that have been raised, give specifics
  • Create an improvement plan and timeline for the employee to meet performance goals
  • Provide the employee with written documentation summarizing the meeting and performance improvement plan

The employee should be provided with honest and direct feedback, and they should be allowed to speak freely. The issues at hand need to be explored in the style that is most appropriate for that employee. Therefore, there are several styles of counseling available. As the employee has been given a chance to remedy these issues, the supervisor, manager, or mentor can create an improvement plan.

Managers should create realistic goals, follow up with the employee, and allow them to get back to being productive. These meetings can also occur as part of an annual performance evaluation. If employment counseling is a new concept for the business, the company should speak to an employment lawyer about how counseling sessions should be conducted and documented.

Are There Any Drawbacks to Employment Counseling?

Employment counseling is effective and helpful for everyone in the office. However, the process, might not be universally accepted in the office. The following are some potential drawbacks of this system:

  • An employee’s resistance to feedback or mistrust of the counseling process
  • Those providing the counseling may be ineffective
  • Failure to provide counseling to all employees with sub-par performance can create potential inequity issues and open up the employer to possible legal liability

Employees may be resistant to counseling, and there is little that can be done to help them improve their performance. When this is the case, the business has documented counseling sessions that did not seem to bear any results and may need to proceed with termination.

Counseling takes time and costs money. Although the company takes time away from work for employment counseling, it is solving problems that will cost even more money to solve in the future. Even short or informal counseling sessions can be effective.

Anyone who provides employment counseling in the office must be effective when assisting employees. When a manager does not clearly set forth their expectations and dole out counseling fairly and equally, employees may resign or see their situation deteriorate to the point of no return.

Should Employment Counseling Be Added to our Handbook?

Employment counseling may be used by the business to ensure a level of progressive discipline in the office. The business, however, should not make any promises to its employees. Every situation is different, and the management or mentoring team should review each case, provide employment counseling where appropriate, and consult with an attorney before moving forward with termination.

An employment lawyer can help employers craft effective employee handbooks that are appropriate for the business without setting a dangerous precedent and ensuring the company is on solid legal ground.

Why Should Companies Consult with an Attorney?

Speaking with an attorney can help a business understand which steps to take to legally and ethically manage its employees. Lawyers can look at the situation and explain the potential public perception of the situation, how the issue may be perceived by other employees, and offer guidance regarding employment counseling.

An employment lawyer can also advise the business when they believe counseling is not working or an employee is so resistant to counseling that they may need to be terminated. Making these decisions with an attorney is safer and simpler for any business owner or manager.

Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Assist Local Businesses with Employment Counseling

The Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. assist employers with all the different types of employment counseling. Counseling employees legally and appropriately helps businesses run smoothly. For 40 years, we have been at the forefront of change in employment law, making the workplace better for all employees while helping employers remain in compliance. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Our offices are located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, and we serve clients in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Cherry Hill, South Jersey.

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