Every employer’s nightmare is a workman’s compensation or unemployment claim. You do not have to have a degree in human resources or employment law to successfully protect your business and it’s assets from claims.
The nature of restaurants is it’s own evil. Accidents happen from slick kitchen floors, customers are at risk of being burned by hot liquid (just think about the McDonald’s coffee fiasco), emplyee claims (mainly around burns from fryers) and turnover in employees is higher than in almost any other industry. This is a recipe for disaster in the way of claims against your business, but there are several things you can do to protect yourself and your restaurant.
Policies and procedures are generally well outlined if you own a franchise and the training required by the franchisor will likely cover these in detail for your new employee. If you own a non-franchise restaurant you need to think carefully about your own policies and procedures and make sure they are clearly laid out in a manual you personally review with each new hire during the training process. If you aren’t experienced in writing, it may be worth your investment to hire an outside agency to review your manual and make necessary adjustments. Handing a manual to a new hire is not enough, especially if they have worked in restaurants before coming on board with yours. They are likely to think it’s the same across the board, and may gloss over important pieces of information that could prevent an accident. If you do own a franchise, this review is equally important. In either situation, yearly reviews of the manuals in the form of a group meeting is well worth the effort. By doing so, there is no room for confusion or forgetfulness that can result in cut corners and inevitably accidents in the workplace.
Paperwork is something no one enjoys, but it can be your lifeline in the event a claim comes against you. Document everything that happens, regardless of how small. For insurance issues, detailed documentation of what occurred, how the situation was responded to, witness statements that are signed and dated, and follow up processes implemented can make all of the difference in liability. If the injured employee broke any of your policies and procedures be sure to detail that information along with any disciplinary actions taken.
For unemployment claims, your paper trail is the only thing that can protect you. In each of your employee’s files you should have signed copies of their acknowledgment of the handbooks rules, details of each time they were late or called out of work, and very detailed reports on any disciplinary problems that arise. Even if your employee is given a “verbal warning” you need to have it documented that the warning was given and have the documentation signed by the employee acknowledging the issue. Most states are at will states, meaning either party can terminate their employment without any real reason, but when it comes to an unemployment claim it is you versus the employee on who was in the right. Even if there was only one violation to your policies, documentation of it can protect you if it comes to review by the Department of Labor.