Avoid Damaging Employment Lawsuits

Article Summary

  1. If the employee feels they have been treated unfairly, the employee may file a lawsuit against the employer.
  2. The answer is yes, which means that employers have the right to terminate employees at any time and for any reason, and they do not have to give advance notice.
  3. However, Florida employers cannot fire employees for discriminatory reasons or for reasons that infringe on a protected right.
  4. Furthermore, Florida employers are prohibited from terminating employees for retaliatory purposes, i.e. employees who file complaints against their employers or take part in whistleblowing acts.
  5. Many times, employment lawsuits can be avoided by properly training your managers and encouraging open communication in your workplace.

When an employer hires an employee for their business, the anticipation is that the employee will add value to the organization.  Sometimes, however, the situation does not work out and the relationship can turn sour for a variety of reasons.  If the employee feels they have been treated unfairly, the employee may file a lawsuit against the employer.  Employment lawsuit damages include all of the financial and emotional losses a person suffers as the result of an employment dispute.

Of the most common types of lawsuits against businesses, an employment lawsuit is the most common.  Of these, most are based on allegations of discrimination, harassment, retaliation or wrongful termination. 

Most workers are protected from these acts by federal anti-discrimination laws, including:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act:

Prevents employers from discriminating against workers based on sex, race, religion, color or national origin.

Equal Pay Act:

Employers must pay men and women the same wages if they perform equal work in the same workplace.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act:

This bars employers from discriminating against employees, ages 40 or older, based on their age.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act:

Employers cannot discriminate against a woman because of pregnancy or a related condition.

Title I of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):

This prevents discrimination against qualified employees who have a disability.

Many people ask if Florida is considered an at-will state.  The answer is yes, which means that employers have the right to terminate employees at any time and for any reason, and they do not have to give advance notice.  However, Florida employers cannot fire employees for discriminatory reasons or for reasons that infringe on a protected right.  Furthermore, Florida employers are prohibited from terminating employees for retaliatory purposes, i.e. employees who file complaints against their employers or take part in whistleblowing acts.

In order to protect themselves from employment lawsuits, employers should follow the following basic guidelines:

Treat All Employees Fairly

Never base your employment decisions on race, sex, national origin, color, religion, age, disability, genetic information or any other class protected by law.  Your actions should be consistent for all employees and not arbitrary.  Your workplace should always be free from harassment or other hostile activities.

Keep a Paper Trail

If you must discipline or terminate an employee, be sure to have documentation to support your decision.  Employees should not be surprised by adverse actions against them.  Types of progressive discipline measures include oral counseling, written warnings and/or reprimands.  These should be placed in a formal personal file after discussing with the employee.  Regular evaluations are a good tool to document performance and employee behavior.  These should contain private notes so employees understand a low rating.  Many times, employment lawsuits can be prevented when a team member knows you have documented reasons for their discipline.

Properly Train Supervisors

Poorly trained or unprofessional managers can create a perceived hostility in the workplace and make certain employees feel like they are being singled out and criticized unfairly.  Many times, employment lawsuits can be avoided by properly training your managers and encouraging open communication in your workplace.

Make Reporting Complaints Easier

The earlier you hear about an employee’s complaint, the better.  However, some managers will fail to report a complaint, especially if it is against them.  Make sure your employees know they can go directly to you, the director of HR or someone else if they have an issue that is not getting resolved.  Setting up either a complaint hotline or an email address where they can report problems is also a good idea.

Don’t Make Exceptions

If you want to be perceived as a fair employer, then you should apply rules consistently to everyone.  When your employee gets an exception, others will feel alienated.  Consistent and fair application of promotions, vacation, pay, assignments, discipline and termination cannot be overstated.

Keep Your Employee Handbook Up-to-Date

Your employee handbook serves as a tool to communicate the company’s expectations to your employees.  Simplify it and keep it current.   Get rid of confusing or outdated policies.  Make sure all employees have signed acknowledgements that they received and read it.  For more information, please read Top Ten Items to Include in Your Employee Handbook.

Don’t Rush to Judgment

Terminating someone can be a life-changing experience for the employee.  Never fire someone in the heat of the moment unless it cannot be helped.  Get counsel.  Sleep on it for at least one night.  Review the decision to terminate with at least one other manager.  If possible, involve someone with Human Resources training.  Make sure the decision is well documented.  If you are still unsure of critical facts in the case, or if someone else is not available to counsel your decision at that moment, consider suspending the employee instead and wait.

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