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No one likes to be sued.
Ask your chief financial officer to run these numbers for you on how much you spent in employment litigation last year versus how much you spent to train your managers on best practices and litigation prevention?
In light of several recent large dollar settlements and verdicts, an employer always will save money by attempting to avoid litigation through better training and awareness.
Why? Contented employees rarely sue.
For example, Marelli Tennessee, an exterior lighting manufacturer for the automotive industry, paid $335,000 in 2020 to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, following an allegation that an assembly line supervisor sexually harassed multiple women who allegedly reported it, yet the company failed to take appropriate measures to protect the employees from the harassment.
Likewise, a female firefighter in Missouri was awarded $1.7 million after a jury found she had been fired for complaining about sexual harassment and that her supervisor failed to address the issue.
Here are several key training areas to improve your chances of successfully avoiding a lawsuit.
1. Train your employees to mind their own business and keep their hands to themselves.
Don’t hug employees. Avoid inappropriate discussions about employee personal lives.
Don’t ask applicants about their religion, marriage, retirement plans or family planning. While you would like a relaxed atmosphere, joking can often go too far and managers have to be careful to keep joking within acceptable limits.
If a complaint is made, investigate it promptly. It is not enough to tell the employee to learn how to “take it” or to tough it out.
2. Teach your employees that you will keep your promises.
Manage employee expectations.
If your handbook has progressive discipline, follow it. Conversely, don’t make empty promises you cannot keep — that is, “you have a job here until you retire.” Plaintiffs remember those things.
3. Train your managers to tell the truth.
Many managers want to be “nice” and don’t want to criticize employees. If you want to change behavior and retain employees, your managers have to tell underperforming employees what is wrong and how to correct it.
4. Teach your managers not to retaliate or to take complaints too personally.
No manager enjoys being accused of discrimination or unfair treatment by an employee.
Under the law, however, it is now much easier to show that an employee suffered an adverse employment action due to retaliation. A negative performance review, job transfer, or reduced workload, for example, could all be considered an adverse action by the court.
An employer that receives a discrimination complaint must be particularly cautious in future dealings with that employee.
5. Take your training seriously.
For example, testimony at the Missouri firefighter trial showed that the firefighters were shown sexual harassment training videos on a split screen so they also could watch a NASCAR race.
As the verdict suggests, the jury was not amused.
Every employment issue has the potential to be second guessed by an employee’s lawyer and judge or jury.
Good training and applying common sense and fairness in advance of problems will go a long way to avoid litigation down the road.
Wilford H. Stone is a lawyer with Lynch Dallas law firm in Cedar Rapids.