Human Alchemy discusses what the corps of discovery can teach employers today.

What the Corps Of Discovery Can Teach Us About Employment Law

It is difficult to live in the Vancouver, WA/Portland, OR area without learning a little bit about the explorers, Lewis and Clark. They lead the first expedition from the East Coast to the Pacific Ocean and back, and they spent a whole winter camped just down the river from here at Fort Clatsop. Their feat was remarkable in and of itself, but their employee management and dispute resolution techniques are just as fascinating. 

Take A Page Out Of Their Book For Your Employee Handbook 

Today, the names Lewis and Clark roll off the tongue like they have always belonged together. But when the Corps of Discovery was formed, the government named Meriwether Lewis as its sole leader. Lewis, however, knew he couldn’t make the trip alone. He asked William Clark, who he knew through his time in the military, to share the adventure and the burden of leadership with him. 

Lewis kept it a secret from the rest of the crew hired to make up the Corps of Discovery that he was technically the sole leader. All decisions were made by Lewis and Clark together, and the rest of the group was none-the-wiser. 

This sort of arrangement is unusual, and probably inadvisable, but it illustrates an important point — employees appreciate clear chains of command and the certainty and accountability they foster. When our firm is advising a client writing a new employee handbook, this is one of the things we stress. 

Resolving Disputes Fairly & Expeditiously 

Members of the Corps of Discovery who violated the military rules Lewis and Clark laid down to govern the group were swiftly brought to justice. 

They were tested early in the expedition by a couple of privates who got drunk on duty. Clark drew up court-martial papers, and a trial was held. Both men were found guilty and sentenced to lashes “well laid on.” (Luckily such punishments are no longer part of theU.S. military or civilian justice systems.) Shortly thereafter, another private fell asleep at his guardpost. This was a much more serious offense, punishable by death. He was found guilty and sentenced to one hundred lashes, each day, for four days. 

Months later, when some of the boats that accompanied the Corps upriver for trading purposes turned around, a few of the trouble-makers were dismissed from service and shipped downriver as well. From that point on, there were very few disciplinary problems, which is remarkable considering the length of the journey and its perils. 

Lewis and Clark set clear expectations and quickly and consistently reacted when their expectations were not met. This is exactly the sort of advice we give our clients. Setting clear expectations and responding appropriately when they are not met minimizes risk and fosters a productive work culture in today’s workplace. 

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help 

One of the ways Lewis and Clark earned the respect of their team was by consulting them in important matters. For example, when they came upon a fork in the river, and it was unclear which was the main branch and which a dead-end tributary, Lewis and Clark asked the entire team for their opinion as they consulted the rudimentary maps available to them, and measured the flow of water. 

Lewis and Clark were convinced that the South fork was the correct path, but the entire rest of the team disagreed. The captains made a judgment call and proceeded up the South fork. The rest of the team “cheerfully” followed, even though they thought it was the wrong river. The fact that they had been heard, and trusted their leaders with their lives, probably went a long way toward increasing that cheerfulness. 

We encourage our clients to follow the lead of Lewis and Clark and consult their employees when appropriate. We also encourage them to consult with us. 

Lewis and Clark were explorers. They took what advice and knowledge they could from others, but were often blazing a new path. While many of our clients are blazing new paths with their business, employment law is a well-worn trail. Human Alchemy is happy to be a guide and interpreter when our clients have questions about things like:

  • Employment agreements, including confidentiality agreements and non-compete clauses;
  • Employee handbooks that disseminate company rules, policies and regulations;
  • Employment discrimination, including disability discrimination;
  • Family medical leave;
  • Wage and hour laws; and 
  • Sexual harassment.

Please contact us today if we can be of assistance.