In 2010, the United States saw nearly 100,000 employment discrimination claims were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Did you know that according to some laws, as a manager, you can personally be sued for employer lawsuits?
There is no way to eliminate the chance that a disgruntled employee will file a lawsuit against you or your company, however there are ways to minimize the risk. To help save yourself and your company from potentially damaging lawsuits, follow the below advice on practices to abide by in the workplace.
Document All Conversations with Employees
All conversations verbal, via email or formal can be presented to a jury. Document all forms of conversations you have with employees, to ensure you have the necessary proof to defend yourself if a case is brought up against you. Although sometimes monotonous, you should always communicate with your employees as if they are going bring you to court.
On the reverse side, be cautious to avoid over-documentation immediately leading up to a planned termination. There have been cases where employers attempt to overcompensate employee disciplinary documentation in the time leading up to a termination to make up for the lack of documentation throughout the entire employment.
Know Your Company’s Policies & Procedures
Be familiar of with your organizations standard policies and procedures, including employment law. A manager claiming ignorance in front of a jury will not be excused - it is a manager’s job to always be knowledgeable of company policies.
Never make decisions without knowing the definite company policy. If ever in doubt about standard protocol, ask your HR department.
Never Over Exaggerate Employee Reviews
Do not over exaggerate positive performance reviews for employees. Overly enthusiastic reviews can discredit your termination decision if that employee is fired down the line. Always be honest and consistent.
Always Take Employee Complaints Seriously
Do not shrug off complaints from employees related to unfairness or perceived illegal actions. Not addressing employee complaints can not only come back to haunt you in a lawsuit, but also destroys your credibility as an employer and a supervisor.
Document Reasons For Non-Hires
Not all lawsuits stem from firing an employee. Companies are often brought to court under allegations of discrimination during the hiring process of an individual, often times because rejection decisions are not always as well documented as an employee hire. Avoid these situations by documenting the exact reason that you did not hire an employee. Remember, it is illegal to deny employment based reasons related to marital status, age, race, religion, children, political affiliation or health status.
Be Honest & Consistent When Defending Personnel Decisions
One of the worst mistakes you can make during a lawsuit, is to change your story or reasoning as to why you made an employee decision. Communicate with your employee the exact reasons for discipline and remain consistent. This includes the initial defendant statement sent to court. If you change your reasoning at any time during the lawsuit, your credibility will go out the window.
Work With Employees To Accommodate Their Needs
Employers are required under federal law to make “reasonable” workplace changes to accommodate employees’ disabilities. As a supervisor, do not try to dictate the solution - work with the employee to meet their specific needs. If the employer controls the situation and creates an unsatisfactory solution for the employee’s needs, the employee may have a reason to file a lawsuit.
Avoid Firing Employees Too Quickly
Before terminating an employee, managers are responsible to try and improve a workers performance. If you document attempts to fix the issues before firing an employee, you will have proof and credence in the court room.
For more information on properly terminating employees, read our Guide to Smooth Terminations & Layoffs.
Many times, work related lawsuits are not in the hands of the employer. However, taking precautionary action involving documentation, communication, and familiarity can help you be prepared to defend you or your company in court.