The Importance of Clear Rules in an Age of Information Overload
By Jack Hancock


We are inundated with information these days from all sources, including seminars, articles and e-mails. Occasionally, we may hear or read about a topic that may be of great value or relevance to our work. By the time we get back to the office, the demands of our schedule take precedence and we do not take full advantage of the information that we have learned. While we may find ways to incorporate this information into our own work, what happens if a colleague or staff encounters that issue?

Newly gained knowledge benefits us. Sharing that newly gained knowledge benefits others exponentially. Several years ago, we represented a local government in a case in which a school resource officer participated in the search of a class of elementary school children in search of money missing from the classroom. Although we were successful in obtaining summary judgment based upon qualified immunity, the court found that the search was unconstitutional. Several weeks ago I received an ante litem notice from the same attorney who represented the plaintiffs in that case regarding a claim of an illegal search of children by a school resource officer from the same jurisdiction. We may now be faced with a situation where this officer is no longer entitled to rely upon the defense of qualified immunity because the law on the issue was established by the prior decision. As the law changes and precedent is established it is imperative that we make those people who work with us aware of those changes. We can’t stop there. We must continue to remind them on a regular basis of not only the new changes in the law that may affect their job, but also the old ones.

Educating our workforce is one of, if not the most, important ways to protect our businesses or governments. Education must be well planned and consistently implemented. Whether you are training law enforcement officers on the law that impacts their immunity or any workforce on the rules and regulations of the workplace, the failure to train is our biggest risk.

A recent decision by the Court of Appeals in Georgia makes clear that rules can be our enemies when they are not followed. In Glass v. Gates, the employer had adopted specific rules and regulations that the supervisor failed to follow. The court refused to dismiss the claim against the supervisor, holding that since the employer had a policy, the supervisor’s action was ministerial rather than discretionary and official immunity did not protect the supervisor. We don’t know whether the supervisor’s actions were a result of a lack of knowledge of the rules and regulations or some other reason, however, the result was the same. The failure to follow the established rules and regulations exposed the supervisorto potential liability for the injuries suffered.

When we use the educational process to develop team players as well as providing information, we make our employees change agents for a better workforce. Rules and regulations when understood and accepted as protectors of the business or government as well as the employee are no longer simply rules but form the basis for making our workforce members of the team. They will then make decisions based upon not just what they may remember of the rules but upon a complete consideration of the impact of their decisions on the employer and themselves. Hopefully these thoughts will be an encouragement to everyone to take the knowledge that you receive from this and other similar learning experiences and make them more than just information for your team. Our businesses or governments are protected by developing team players who are committed to the success of the entity and make their decisions based upon that commitment.

For more information, contact Jack Hancock at 404.335.7143 or [email protected].

 



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