Municipalities and Human Resources
Article by: Zachary E. Nahass
For municipal officials who may never have been required to think about, much less participate in, traditional human resources tasks such as recruiting and hiring staff, developing and implementing employee policies, and receiving and processing employee complaints, engaging in those tasks may be daunting and unpleasant. However, because most small and mid-sized municipalities do not have dedicated human resources personnel, but rely on their generalist administrators (who may themselves have limited experience in the area of human resources) to manage all aspects of employee relations, elected officials often find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Regardless the talent or skill of the manager, and because of the regular turnover of municipal leaders, it is imperative for municipalities to develop and maintain institutional policies and procedures to assist the elected officials, bolster employee relations and minimize liability. Good job descriptions and employee handbooks are invaluable tools for the municipal employer.
Developing and regularly updating job descriptions serves a variety of essential needs. At a minimum, through the regular review and adjustment of descriptions of existing or necessary positions, a municipality has the opportunity to reflect on the needs and strengths of the organization, identify gaps that should be filled, or identify redundancies and potential cost savings. At the same time, managers attain a better understanding of work flow in their organization by reviewing and discussing job descriptions with employees.
The development of good job descriptions will also assist to identify necessary qualifications for any particular position, as well as to facilitate screening and interviews of potential new hires. For existing employees, a well-drafted job description might serve as a useful tool in measuring employee performance and completing employee reviews. Finally, a good job description is an indispensable tool in determining whether an employee remains able to perform the essential functions of the job in the event of some impairment in his or her ability.
Likewise, a basic set of current and regularly updated employee policies, generally contained in an employee handbook, are almost indispensable for all employers. At a minimum, a non-discrimination/non-harassment policy and a process for reporting complaints are essential. Other policies of general applicability are also appropriate for inclusion in the employee handbook, such as workplace conduct expectations, and policies related to timekeeping, payroll, attendance, dress code, smoking, etc. Benefits of a good handbook include: setting general performance and behavior expectations; providing guidance for employees, managers, and elected officials on various internal procedures; protecting against claims by of discrimination or unfair treatment (assuming that policies are enforced uniformly); and allowing for consistency even as the makeup of the governing body evolves over time. At the same time, a poorly drafted or out-of-date handbook risks perpetuating unlawful policies and creating unintended obligations for the employer, which would not otherwise exist.
The initial creation of job descriptions and employee policies may seem an insurmountable feat, as might their regular maintenance. However, any investment made in developing these tools of personnel management will pay off in the minimization of HR headaches for current and successor officials.
The municipal and employment attorneys at the CGA Law Firm are always available to assist you in developing appropriate documents and dealing with other employment matters are the occur.
This article is an excerpt from the Winter 2017 edition of the CGA Municipal Law Newsletter.