Rethinking Employment Issues & Policies
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Rethinking Employment Issues & Policies

December 2015

Effective township governance includes the responsibility of being an effective employer. This responsibility requires townships to face many of the same concerns that other employers face in recruiting, hiring, terminating, and managing employees.

In this presentation on effective employment practices, we look at some common employment issues that can turn into traps for townships--from background checks and substance abuse issues to discrimination, harassment and termination--and suggest a number of employment policies that every township should adopt. Some of the topics to be addressed include:

    1. Employment Liability

    It only takes one township employee to trigger employment liability, be it through a discrimination claim, a wage and hour violation, a federal immigration issue, or even a collective bargaining obligation.

    2. At-Will Employment

    At-will employment does not immunize a township from all employment liability—it only protects against a former employee's potential contract claim. The only difference between at-will employment and regular employment is that an at-will employee can be terminated at any time, without warning and without the employer having to establish "just cause." This, does not mean, however, that the employer is exempt from all employment liability.

    3. Criminal Convictions

    As a prospective employer, townships cannot have an all-out ban on hiring people with criminal convictions. While it is appropriate to ask about such convictions during the application process, an employer cannot discriminate on the basis of past criminal convictions. Using a criminal conviction to decide the employment status of an individual is in direct violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    4. Hostile Work Environment

    A successful claim against the township for "hostile work environment" requires more than just a bad boss, but every township official must know what to watch for in the work environment to avoid these claims. A hostile work environment is a form of harassment, so it is to be taken seriously. In order for an employee to claim a hostile work environment, the communication being criticized has to be discriminatory in nature. As a manager, one must ensure that the work environment allows all employees to be productive and succeed.

    5. Volunteering

    Township employees cannot simply volunteer to work extra for the Township—they must be paid at their hourly rate for doing so, even over the lunch hour.

For more information about these guidelines, be sure to attend the 2016 Michigan Township Association Conference & Expo, where Helen E. R. Mills will be discussing "Rethinking Employment Issues & Policies" on Wednesday, January 20 from 2:45pm to 4:00pm.

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