Don’t “leave the porch light on”
When it comes to department, district or company policy, we tend to be on autopilot until some new technology, new national crisis, or new “hot button” issue jogs us into policy development. Although hasty, “knee-jerk” reactions may not always be advisable for a whole host of reasons, there’s another reason to lay low and see if there’s another option to policy creation. When we attack that new issue with new language we can draw unwanted attention and scrutiny from employee unions, the media, parents and others when we would have done better to “not leave the porch light on,” as one labor lawyer recently put it.
So, how do we fly under the radar while ensuring that we’ve addressed today’s concern? Consider that our priorities of safety, a harassment-free workplace and quality customer service haven’t changed. And, despite the typical belief that our laws are ever-changing, legal and regulatory compliance sometimes requires that you stay the course. The conclusion: Before you drop everything to focus on a policy on tweeting in the workplace, particular bus emergencies, or the like, determine if general policies like confidentiality, nondisclosure, sexual harassment, and crisis preparedness already apply. After all, if existing policies reflect your core values, they may, in a sense, be timeless.
What can be tricky is striking a balance between the need to communicate important rules to your workforce again and again, and avoiding inciting distracting litigation. Try keeping the attention local – take advantage of a great opportunity to talk about critical issues in up-coming safety meetings. Use recent headlines and case scenarios from Legal Routes and other sources to show how your “oldie but goodie” policies apply to matters that are in the headlines and on court dockets.
For example, talk with your staff members about whether existing policies on safe driving cover cell phone use on the road. Do your “don’t touch a student” policies tell them clearly that they may not forcefully restrain a student? Do behavior management rules obviously cover quieting students with duct tape? Have you said strongly enough, don’t discharge students at undesignated stops.
Let your own employees tell you when the words that are already on the books don’t guide them sufficiently before creating a new policy to address every issue that arises. Don’t hesitate to shed a new light on the policies you have to review their relevance and applicability, but, at the same time, don’t leave the porch light on!