By: Storrs Downey, Capital Member
Keeping employment issues out of courts and administrative agencies is certainly something employers should strive for. The following are effective ways to reduce litigation and minimize exposure once a suit or claim has been filed.
Once you learn of an employee complaint of alleged harassment, discrimination or unfair treatment, promptly investigate the matter by talking with the employee and others involved. Many employment claims arise because the employee is upset the employer did not communicate with them promptly or at all.
2/Employee Handbooks And Manuals
A written employee handbook outlining important company rules, policies and regulations and the consequences for violating rules can help provide a basis for discipline and termination if necessary. In addition, addressing certain important state and federal laws such as the FMLA, ADA and a policy against discrimination and harassment practices might benefit the employer when faced with a future employment lawsuit. Two cautionary notes:
- Make sure to periodically review and update your handbook with significant changes in employment laws. (For example, under the NLRB you can no longer have a policy prohibiting employee criticisms or comments about non-proprietary or confidential information about the company and its management).
- If you include a progressive disciplinary process you could face legal hurdles if you do not consistently apply and follow each step with employees you discipline or terminate.
3/Document, Document, Document
Substantial written support for how and why an employer handled an issue with its employee makes for a stronger employment dispute.
4/Do Not Retaliate Against Employees
As tempting as it might be to take some form of retaliatory action against an employee who makes what seems like (and actually might be) a false claim of harassment or discrimination against their company, do not do so. Do not demote, fire, take adverse action or even threaten to do so because an employee makes a seemingly false or unreasonable claim. Many retaliation claims often result in greater awards for the underlying claim of discrimination or harassment. Fully investigate the employee’s claim and advise the employee of the result of your investigation but do not punish them.
5/When In Doubt, Contact Your Attorney
If you are unsure on how to handle an employee’s claim of discrimination or unfair treatment, how or whether to discipline an employee or an employment issue, strongly consider consulting with your employment attorney. The money you spend in consulting with your attorney will be well spent compared to having to pay him to defend a costly lawsuit in the future.