by James Kelley, LARM Loss Control Specialist
Village board members, city council members, and supervisors in any Nebraska municipality have many responsibilities and roles. One of the most important roles is to understand, identify, and mitigate legal liabilities. Doing so may protect their community from damage to city property, injury to staff or members of the public, and possibly a costly lawsuit. A common legal liability is negligence in the hiring and retention of city employees.
Negligence with hiring and/or retaining an employee who is unqualified, unethical, or unsafe will produce exposure to legal liabilities for any organization and even more so for a public entity that has the responsibility to safeguard its citizens. A municipality hires workers who have access to all facets of a city or village, including handling municipal accounts and funds, access to parks and swimming pools, operating large machinery, and maintaining vital utilities. There are a myriad of problems that can occur in a town that has handed the keys over to someone who is not qualified or, worse, isn’t trustworthy. Hiring or retaining inadequate staff can also create negative consequences such as lower productivity, decreased workplace morale, higher turnover rate, and diminished reputation for the municipality.
Here are some best practices to help mitigate this type of liability in your community:
- Implement and maintain a comprehensive employee handbook that includes clear and thorough job descriptions for each position and procedures for rewarding, disciplining, and terminating employees. Document that all employees have signed off on the employee handbook including any changes that are made to it. If you are a LARM member, that information is accessible on the LARM website at larmpool.org. A city attorney can also help your town or city develop a comprehensive employee handbook.
- Have an extensive hiring process that includes thorough background checks, reference checks, and interviews of candidates. It may be difficult to find qualified employees, especially in the smaller communities in Nebraska, but it’s vitally important to not lower hiring standards just to fill vacant positions. Hiring an unqualified person may prove much more costly to a city than any anticipated savings.
- Provide necessary training to new hires and existing employees. Ensure they have the knowledge, skills, and tools to perform their tasks. Communication is vital. Don’t take for granted that a new employee has knowledge about equipment or processes. Document the initial training and any periodic safety and equipment training afterward. Keep and maintain all training records for each employee.
- Establish clear and measurable goals and expectations for each employee. Recognize and reward good performance and address poor performance promptly. Provide constructive feedback and guidance for improvement and document employee performance and/or any corrective action needed in a performance evaluation.
- If disciplinary action or termination is necessary, follow the organization's policies and procedures and seek input from your legal team. Provide documentation and evidence to support the decision and communicate it respectfully and professionally to the employee.
There are communities in Nebraska that have paid enormous sums in legal fees and settlements for incidents that happen because of an unqualified, unethical, or unsafe employee. Don’t take a shortcut when hiring, training, and monitoring employees. The safety of your city and its financial stability depends on it.