Like the in-laws visiting for the holidays, I don’t want to overstay my welcome at Overlawyered, so Wednesday will be my last day, at least for this stint. Before I go, I wanted to leave you with a few lessons I have learned about avoiding lawsuits in a customer contact business. Please note, I am not an attorney, and this is not legal advice, it’s just what we do. Your mileage may vary.
1. Pay your attorney before a problem arises. My attorneys have been real allies in helping me review our procedures, create releases, craft an employee manual, etc.
2. Treat your employees well. Unhappy employees create internal problems, and are more likely to mistreat customers.
3. We always make an employee’s first 60-90 days a probationary period, as indicated and accepted by them in their job offer letter. We have found it easier to treat the employee truly as at-will in that period. Some argue that using the probationary period makes it harder to fire someone after the period, but since we are a seasonal business and most folks only work for us for 4-6 months, this is not an issue for us. Ask your attorney about it in your situation.
4. Employees who show poor judgement in how they interact with customers will do it again in the future 99% of the time. We are very aggressive about weeding out these employees, terminating them when possible in their 60-90 day probationary period. In a seasonal business, we just don’t have time to train new behaviors.
5. When employees or customers are hurt, we train our employees to provide medical care quickly. There is absolutely no return to being cheap with first aid, no matter what or who the cause. All of our employees know how to get injured people to the emergency room fast, and key phone numbers are posted in many locations.
6. I insist that every “incident”, from injuries to confrontations with customers, be documented immediately by our employees on a company incident report. Even waiting a day will mean that critical details can be forgotten. This information is invaluable when dealing with possible claims later.
7. I always investigate personally any complaint that a customer or employee brings to me. I will document my findings for the file, and always provide a written response to the customer. If I think they are considering a claim, I always write the letter assuming that it will be read by an attorney considering taking on their case on a contingency basis. Remember that attorneys have to decide if a client is worth their time — this is a chance to convince them it is not.
8. Get a good business insurance agent. If your agent says “no, I can’t get your coverage for that” then you probably have the wrong agent. I never knew how mediocre my previous agents were until I had a great one. Also, insurance companies have a lot of good free resources to do safety and risk inspections.
9. Invest the time in a good manual for your supervisors. Don’t think of it as a policy manual, think of it as a giant FAQ. Every time one of our managers faces an odd new situation, we assume it can happen again and publish guidance for them in the manual.
10. Don’t operate in California or Florida. Well, since we are a recreation business, we almost have to be in these states. So we just plan in advance that insurance and other costs will be higher.