County News logo
National Association of Counties * Washington, D.C.           Vol. 32, No. 4 * March 6, 2000

Previous story | Table of Contents | Next story


An emergency room visit is something almost all of us experience at one time or another. Something is wrong and we feel seriously ill or the unexpected accident takes place and we find ourselves in great need of expert care, advice and intervention.

Where do we turn? It’s obvious – we go, or we are taken to the nearest emergency room. This is a place where experienced, skilled and educated professionals ask a lot of questions, gather information, develop a diagnosis and help us with the right treatment.

Every county manager and supervisor also encounters conditions and symptoms of serious trouble in the organization. If the symptoms are acute, they need to be treated promptly and effectively or the consequences will be serious indeed for the manager, the employees involved and the agency itself. In short, all managers and all employees need access to a county “HR ER.”

What kinds of cases “present” at the HR ER? They may range from the death or serious injury of an employee resulting from accident or illness to workplace violence, criminal misconduct, natural disaster, sexual harassment, an employee appearing to be impaired because of drugs or alcohol, or some other totally inappropriate performance or behavior problem. While the workday for most people may be 8–5 or 9–5, the reality is that county government works 24–7. HR needs to be ready to contribute to effective operations whether it is at a convenient time or not. The HR ER represents the resources and skills for that contribution.

The acute intervention function of human resources is one which the organization must support and nurture. The investment made in ensuring that there are policies developed in advance for intervention in serious problem cases will return benefits to the organization many times greater than the cost.

The HR Doctor recommends that one or more staff members, depending on the county’s size, be specifically designated, on a rotating basis, to serve as the “HR duty officer,” equipped with a cell phone and pager and available at any time of the day or night, weekend or holiday.

The duty officer’s contact phone numbers should be available to all directors and others such as dispatch shift commanders, law enforcement watch commanders, and others.

The staff of the HR ER should be trained and mentored in responding to the most serious HR issues, based on an assumption, for planning purposes, that these problems will emerge when the business office operations are closed for the day. The job of the duty officer is to thoroughly understand the organization’s policies, know who to contact for immediate response to serious problems, and to do the necessary follow-up as a guide and counselor for the managers and supervisors.

The “duty officers” should be experienced, journey-level HR professionals, who are mentored by their managers and by the HR director so that they develop the confidence and the knowledge to help when that help is needed most.

Part of the advance preparation for HR ER team members may be to develop a guide book which contains the agency’s policies and protocols for anticipated situations. For example, what are the names, contact numbers, locations, and procedures for after-hours drugs or alcohol testing? What are the requirements of the agency’s workplace violence policy? What are the contact phone numbers for key agency personnel such as directors, the county attorney, sheriff, watch commanders, the fire rescue chief, and others?

Building a highly competent HR ER requires no bricks and mortar and very little agency expense. However, the prevention of even one jury verdict in a sexual harassment case or improper discharge case can save in excess of $200,000. Of equal importance is the fact that every supervisor needs help occasionally and the agency has the obligation to be able to provide professional support and consultation any time there is a problem.

More information about acute intervention in HR is available through the HR Doctor’s Web site at Included is the article published on Aug. 10, 1998, entitled “Supervisor Down, Supervisor Needs Assistance.”

By the way, at the HR ER, you are not even asked to show your health insurance card and should not have to wait in line to get help. Best wishes!


Phil Rosenberg,
The HR Doctor

(If you have questions for the "HR Doctor," e-mail him at Rosenberg is the Human Resources director for Broward County, Fla.)


Previous story | Table of Contents | Next story