With great power comes great responsibility, and if we may add, great risks too. To put it in HR terms: Even if your intentions are good and you treat your employees well and with respect, you’re still not immune to the potential threat of an employee lawsuit.
In this post, we address the most common types of employee lawsuits and how you can protect yourself from a legal wrecking ball that can result in a lengthy, costly battle at court.
You’re likely to face a discrimination lawsuit if an employee (or a candidate in the hiring process) has been treated unfairly on one of the following grounds: age, sex, sexual orientation, race, nationality, religion, disability, pregnancy, or other. Equal and fair treatment of all of your employees is not something you want to be flippant about, as discrimination charges are one of the quickest ways to tarnish your business’ and your own reputation. Make sure you’re familiar with the Equality Act 2010 brought by the UK Parliament and tailor your anti-discrimination policies accordingly.
Note: Some forms of discrimination are allowed if they’re needed for the way the organisation works. The UK government, for instance, stated the example of employing only women in a health centre for Muslim women.
Any conduct that creates a hostile working environment often goes hand in hand with discrimination, affects the victim’s performance at work and can cause them serious health and psychological issues classifies as harassment. Put simply, workplace harassment may be anything that can make another person feel humiliated, demeaned, or threatened. This means that in no parallel universe is a sexist joke towards an attractive employee considered “cute” or “amusing”; and neither is name-calling, mobbing, stalking, or any other forms of verbal and nonverbal abusive behaviour.
One of the best ways to discourage harassment from the workplace is to put in place a friendly and respectful company culture with a strict non-harassment policy at its core. A good way to move your company in this direction is to set forth clear non-harassment rules in an employee handbook which explains what kind of behaviour will not be tolerated in your firm and what the consequences are for violating the rules. Should harassment occur nonetheless, make sure you immediately take action, discipline the violator and apologise to the victim on behalf of the entire company.
- Unfair dismissal / Wrongful termination
If an employee has been fired for a reason that’s deemed illegal, the employer might be facing a serious lawsuit. The best prevention is to cross out all factors unrelated to the employee’s competence – dismiss them only if they are not capable of doing their job well. Sometimes, however, a former employee will try to sue you even if they have been fairly dismissed; how do you as an employer protect yourself against that? Although there is no foolproof formula, it helps when the reason for firing someone is very clear and based solely on facts. Needless to say, it is in this case that accurate and complete employee documentation is key.
- Personal injury
As an employer, you have the legal duty to protect your employees and inform them about the health and safety issues that might affect them. Prevention is of utmost importance and a legal necessity at that: The law obliges you to carry out a risk assessment, keep monitoring possible hazards to health and safety, and take necessary steps (like training and education) in order to make sure your employees (as well as visitors, partners, and other stakeholders) are protected from injuries.
If an accident does occur despite all precautionary measures you have taken, you will have to prove that you have carried the employee’s compensation insurance and responded in a timely to any communicate health and safety issues. Demonstrating you did everything within your means to protect the health and safety your employees will be your best shield in the courtroom.
Your business, no matter how big or small, is always a team effort and the misconduct of one member can affect the dynamics of the entire firm. Therefore, training and education on legal requirements and best practices is vital to ensure these guidelines are understood and practiced by other members of your management or supervisors team, provided you have any.
If you do get tangled up in an employee lawsuit anyway, it helps to have the best legal professional by your side. We can match you with the right lawyer who will cater to your unique needs and find the best possible resolution for you and your company.