By Calvin Gower, Trüpp.

When managers become careless in today’s work environment, they open the door to significant legal risks. As a manager, it’s important to grasp that you play a big role in minimizing the risks your company faces. With the rising number of federal level audits and retaliation claims, it’s important to take a step back and look at how you can avoid these negative situations as a manager.

Here are three ways you can avoid pitfalls:

1. Maintain, communicate, & apply employment policies

Following policies in a consistent manner is key to making sure employees feel they are being treated fairly. When an employee sees inconsistency, it starts to raise questions of bad intentions or discrimination.

Pay close attention to policies related to time tracking, attendance, paid time off, and complaint reporting structures. The first step, of course, is to simply know your policies. Talk with HR to ensure that you understand them and are implementing them correctly and consistently. Talking with your fellow managers about how they are implementing these policies can also facilitate consistency across the organization in how policies are applied.

2. Take swift action & document thoroughly

The biggest mistake managers make when it comes to disciplinary action is not addressing the issue early on. Too often, managers will let an undesirable behavior continue unchecked, until its effects are unbearable or there is a major error or complaint. Allowing poor performance or bad behavior sets a bad example for other employees and can create resentment among them. It is also a disservice to the employee, who may have been able to correct the bad performance if they had been told about it. Waiting to address performance issues can also complicate decisions to discipline or separate an employee later.

A better approach is to set clear expectations and enforce them head-on. Addressing issues quickly prevents them from escalating and helps you to scale your disciplinary actions if the problem progresses. Don’t shy away from bringing HR into the equation when the situation warrants it. Lastly, make sure you document everything! The best way to avoid liability is to maintain evidence of the performance issue and the fair and unbiased process through which is was addressed.

3. Follow through on all complaints of discrimination and harassment

With the recent focus on discrimination and harassment, it’s important to follow your company policies and procedures. Take all complaints seriously, whether formal or informal, and respond as quickly and thoughtfully as possible. This means getting HR involved, documenting everything you know, and being careful to avoid retaliation.

Managers need to recognize that this is a high-risk area. Ignoring claims or brushing off issues brought to your attention is a big no-no. Actively listening, responding without reaction or bias, and getting HR involved is an easy 3-step process to make sure you handle a complaint correctly and in compliance with relevant employment laws.

No manager is perfect, but being self-aware and learning how to avoid pitfalls is a huge step toward being a great leader. Committing to continual development and becoming more aware of the effects of your decision making can have a significant impact on mitigating risk for your organization and maintaining a respectful work environment.