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How To Avoid Employment Lawsuits

By Jim Hynes, President, Corporate Legal Consulting LLC

Discrimination laws seek to prevent discrimination by employers based on race, sex, religion, national origin, physical disability, and age. In addition, there is a growing body of law focusing on employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Discriminatory practices include bias in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination, compensation, and various types of harassment. This article shares some sound practices that will reduce the chances of an employee suing you or your company.

Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if all employees were conscientious, hardworking, competent, and reliable? What if, in addition, all employers were fair, considerate, and honest with their employees? Under these circumstances, there would be no basis for many lawsuits.

Since this is not a perfect world, what can individual business owners do to prevent being hit with a lawsuit from an employee? While no list can cover all possible safeguards, instituting the following policies and practices will dramatically reduce the probability that an employee will sue you or your company for discrimination:

  • Hire without any thought to race, national origin, gender, or age.
  • Consider handicaps only in the context of job performance, after reasonable accommodations.
  • Inform unsuccessful applicants if a reference or security check influenced your hiring decision.
  • Have written job descriptions, including qualifications, for all positions.
  • Post all job openings and promote without any thought to race, national origin, gender, or age.
  • Review all benefit, pension, and retirement plans for discriminatory clauses.
  • Inform employees of performance standards and the sanctions for violations.
  • Provide written reprimands and an opportunity to correct deficiencies.
  • Evaluate employees regularly, in writing.
  • Be consistent in all employee actions.
  • Hold management personnel accountable to company employee policies.
  • Institute a zero-tolerance policy for discriminatory actions on the part of supervisors and co-workers.
  • Keep records intact.

The importance of written documentation in every phase of employee contact from hiring to firing cannot be over-emphasized. In the event of a lawsuit, juries expect to see written records of important decisions, meetings, problems, and policies. In addition, the consistent application of the same policies and treatment to all employees is paramount.

Even if a lawsuit is never filed, the existence of written employee documentation provides an outline of company practices that can be regularly evaluated and improved, when necessary.

Note: All companies should review company personnel policies and practices with an attorney to ensure compliance with both State and Federal laws. Contact Michael Prior, MassMEP, michaelp@massmep.org or (508) 831-7020, to inquire about a free legal consultation with Corporate Legal Consulting to discuss questions regarding your workforce issues.

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