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GIRMA Helpline: How It Works

October 30, 2015
Members of GMA’s property and liabil­ity program, the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency (GIRMA), receive exclusive access to a hotline, known as the GIRMA Helpline, which offers legal advice and practical guidance about a wide variety of personnel and employ­ment law issues—at no cost to mem­bers.
 
Through a long-standing partnership between GMA and Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson, LLP, GIRMA provides members access to this Atlanta-based law firm’s experienced labor and em­ployment attorneys who are active members of the firm’s Public Sector Group. Attorneys specializing in labor and employment law and complex liti­gation, with a substantial Public Sector practice, handle all Helpline inquiries.
 
Who Should Use the GIRMA Helpline?
The GIRMA Helpline is designed for municipal officials or managers respon­sible for making or recommending personnel decisions or for providing relevant guidance on such matters. The most common callers include:
 
  • City managers and administrators
  • Department heads
  • Human resources professionals
  • City attorneys
  • City clerks
  • Elected officials
 What about the City Attorney?
City attorneys, by necessity, must repre­sent their clients across a broad range of practice areas. That leaves very few opportunities to develop substantial experience in a specialized area such as labor and employment law. Conse­quently, most city attorneys appreciate the availability of the GIRMA Helpline and either contact it themselves or en­courage their cities to do so directly.

GIRMA attorneys also respect the relationship between cities and their city attorneys, remaining mindful of the importance of such relationships when administering the Helpline.
 
What Happens When a City Official Calls?
 
  1. First, the city official speaks with a trained coordinator who gathers all rel­evant information pertaining to the per­sonnel matter and makes arrangements to obtain applicable policies and other relevant documentation from the caller.
  2. Once the coordinator gathers this information and documentation, he or she will assign the caller to an attorney based on a variety of considerations. For example:
    • Has a same or similar call been previously handled by a particular attorney?
    • Is there an established relationship with a particular attorney?
    • Does the call involve the sub-specialty of a particular attorney (such as drug testing)?
  3. The caller then interacts directly with a particular attorney who will dis­cuss the city official’s situation in fur­ther detail, answer questions, identify options, assist with document prepara­tion, recommend next steps and help in any other possible way.
  4. Ultimately, the attorney works with the city official to achieve a resolution designed to fully address the city’s per­sonnel or employment law matter, re­duce the potential for a legal challenge, and put the city in the best possible po­sition to successfully defend against any such challenge.
Note that most Helpline-related com­munications between GIRMA members and attorneys qualify for protection un­der the Attorney-Client Privilege and/or the Attorney Work Product Doctrine and, as such, are not subject to disclo­sure under the Open Records Act or through the administrative or judicial discovery process.

How Much Does It Cost?
It is free to use the Helpline. And, as an incentive to encourage members to utilize the Helpline prior to making high-risk or non-routine personnel ac­tions, GIRMA waives the city’s deduct­ible should the personnel action sub­sequently result in a claim under the member’s coverage agreement with GIRMA.
 
What Can A City Official Call About?
Personnel and employment law issues typically addressed through our GIRMA Helpline often include:
 
  • Employee discipline
  • Background checks (including Georgia Crime Information Cen­ter and Equal Employment Oppor­tunity Commission compliance)
  • Wage and hour issues (including overtime)
  • Compliance with federal and state records retention laws and regula­tions
  • Employee benefits
  • Employment agreements
  • Grievances and appeals
  • Workplace investigations
  • Personnel policies and proce­dures, employee handbooks, and standard operating procedures
  • Leaves of absences (including family/medical and military leave)
  • Fitness-for-duty and return-to-work issues
  • Independent contractor arrange­ments
In addition to these issues, Helpline attorneys advise GIRMA members on their rights and obligations as local gov­ernment employers under the federal and state constitutions and various oth­er laws, including:
 
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Age Discrimination in Employ­ment Act (ADEA)
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA)
  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
  • Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as ACA or Obamacare)
  • Georgia Whistleblower Protection Law
  • Open Records Act and Open Meetings Act
Are there any limitations or restrictions to the Helpline?
While the Helpline can provide related guidance and advice, it does not pro­vide legal representation for members in connection with:
 
  • Internal grievances and appeals
  • EEOC charges
  • Claims for unemployment ben­efits
  • Lawsuits
Helpline attorneys also cannot con­duct workplace investigations, training, and broad policy reviews through the Helpline, nor can we create person­nel policies and procedures, employee handbooks, standard operating proce­dures, employment agreements, or oth­er comprehensive documentation. And while there is no restriction on the num­ber of calls that a single member can place to the Helpline, it does not gen­erally cover matters that cannot be ad­equately handled through telephone or email. That means the Helpline doesn’t generally cover matters requiring sub­stantial amounts of legal research, docu­ment review, document preparation or witness interviews, along with matters that cannot be resolved within a reason­able amount of time.

So What’s the Helpline Number?
To reach the GIRMA Helpline, GIRMA members may call toll-free at 800-721-1998. The Helpline can also be reached at 404-582-8413, 404-659-6700, or girmahelpline@elarbeethompson.com.
TAKE THE NEXT STEP
If you’re not insured through GIRMA, call us today. You can reach out to:
 
WHY GMA?
  • We’ve spent more than 25 years helping members like you with property and liability insurance.
  • Our membership-controlled fund has nearly 330 members.
  • Fund members have received $53 million in dividends (or renewal credits), significantly reducing the cost of coverage for the membership.