Griffin Human Resources Director Explains Why He Loves GMA’s GIRMA Helpline
Miles Neville, Griffin’s Human Resources director, has worked in his field for more than 25 years. And as part of his experience, he knows that he doesn’t know it all. Occasionally, he’ll need expert legal advice about employment and labor law issues when difficult, tricky situations arise. And he also knows where to find that kind of advice—for free.
“I can’t imagine not having GMA’s GIRMA (Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency, a property and liability program) helpline,” says Neville. “They’re just too useful for our city.” In this interview, Neville talks about why smaller cities especially need expert legal advice about employment and labor law, why this kind of expertise supplements the great work of city attorneys, and why the GIRMA helpline price—free!—is hard to beat.
Why is the GIRMA helpline your “best friend”?
Through GIRMA, we receive access to a group of lawyers from a large, powerful law firm, and these lawyers especially understand how employment and labor law applies to local government. Typically, we would not be able to afford having these kinds of lawyers on retainer. But through GIRMA, we have free access to great lawyers with municipal as well as employment and labor law expertise.
Cities already have legal counsel, so why would you use this service?
We’re a smaller city, so we have limited resources compared to a large city. We do have a city attorney, but our city attorney can’t be an expert in everything. He’s worked with us for many years, but his expertise focuses more on substandard housing, code enforcement, planning and zoning law, open records and open meetings laws, and other similar areas. City attorneys are generally not experts in labor and employment law.
As a result, if we didn’t have access to GIRMA’s helpline we would either have to rely on our attorney who isn’t an expert in the field or we would have to pay a lot of money to use an expert attorney on retainer. GIRMA provides us access to many lawyers if we need them, and they all specialize in different areas. We don’t have to rely on one person who tries to specialize in everything, whether it’s our city attorney or another attorney on retainer. And GIRMA’s price—free—is right.
What kinds of issues are great to use the helpline for, and why?
I generally use the helpline for difficult disciplinary matters and employment decisions that could potentially result in someone’s termination as an employee. Even though I’ve practiced human resources for 25 years and I’m very good with employment and labor law, I’m still not an attorney and I need access to that expertise and knowledge. I’ll run difficult issues by GIRMA, letting them know how we’re thinking and getting their advice. And we generally take GIRMA’s advice.
What kinds of things could go wrong if a city doesn’t take advantage of the GIRMA helpline’s expert legal advice?
Not using the helpline could more likely lead to an employee filing a state or federal employment law violation charge against us or maybe even introducing a lawsuit. At a city, you’re often making employment decisions that are very difficult and even tricky to understand. If you make the wrong decision, you might receive an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge with very little to defend yourself because you didn’t think it through properly or use the right information. By not using the GIRMA helpline, you’re more susceptible to state and federal employment law violations or lawsuits.
What would you say to cities that are not GIRMA members, or who are GIRMA members and aren’t accessing this helpline?
If you’re a smaller city not accessing this helpline, then you’re probably relying on local attorneys who usually have very little knowledge or understanding about employment and labor law. Or, you’re paying a lot of money to a specialized attorney instead of using the free GIRMA helpline that gives you access to a team of amazing attorneys.
While difficult situations or lawsuits may still arise, having the helpline and using GIRMA’s advice helps in many ways. For example, if we use the helpline and someone sues us, we have a deductible to pay when GIRMA attorneys represent us. If we use the helpline to help us in our decision, follow the GIRMA attorney’s advice, and still get sued, GIRMA waives the deductible. That saves us even more money.