No one starts a business expecting to eventually be mired in costly litigation. Unfortunately, too many business owners end up fighting — and sometimes losing — court battles than can cost them dearly in money and reputation. Many of these lawsuits, particularly those involving employees, can be avoided by simply knowing the law and making sure that all of your employees, especially those in supervisory and human resources positions, follow it.
Many employee lawsuits involve wrongful termination. Illinois and Missouri are both “at-will” states, meaning that an employee can be terminated whenever an employee chooses to, as long as that reason isn’t illegal — for example, because of a protected characteristic like ethnicity, gender or disability. However, it’s always wise to keep careful records of a problem employee’s actions and errors and any counseling you’ve done with them. Then if you fire them, they have less chance of claiming that their termination was for any reason beyond their performance.
Sexual harassment is also a common cause of employee lawsuits. Employers need to make sure that any allegations of harassment (sexual or other types) are taken seriously. No supervisor, manager or human resources employee should minimize an employee’s discomfort or fear. Many of these lawsuits are brought only after an employee has made multiple unsuccessful attempts to seek help within their workplace to end the harassment.
It’s essential to ensure that you have a workplace where people feel safe, both physically and emotionally. What you might consider a disgruntled employee may be someone who has a valid issue that’s not being addressed. Chances are, that employee’s not able to do their best work.
You can help prevent litigation or increase your chances of prevailing if a lawsuit is brought, by having processes in place to deal with employee issues that allow you to provide written documentation of your actions.
If you have questions about how best to do this or if you’re already on the wrong end of an employee lawsuit, talk with an experienced attorney.