Employee Grievances & Lawsuits – Preparation is the Best Defense
Hindsight is always a great thing. I wish I had ______ (fill in the blank). When it comes to Employee Grievances and the potential lawsuits that might follow, there is no doubt that a company that has issued appropriate policies and documented everything stands a better chance of avoiding a lawsuit or mitigating a pay-out.
Now, just because you have good policies and practices doesn’t ensure that you won’t face a lawsuit. However, good practices, especially good documentation will be critical when such a lawsuit is filed. Let me tell you about a recent experience I had. Through a mutual friend, I was introduced to the CEO in the healthcare field, and he agreed to meet with me to talk about Dovetail’s HR help desk product. After hearing what our product could do, he commented, “Unfortunately, we won’t be a customer for your product, but let me tell you why your product meets a great need.” He goes on to describe how his company was recently sued by a former employee for what the employee claimed was wrongful termination. The company’s legal counsel had a meeting with the employee’s attorney and after the attorney laid out his client’s case, the company’s legal counsel pulled out a document that was the complete audit trail of the entire interaction with the employee and why she was fired. Once the attorney reviewed the file, he dropped his client. You see, this company already had a software application like Dovetail and it saved this company from a costly and time consuming lawsuit. The good news is that while I didn’t get his business, he did introduce me to a number of prospects who he thought could use our product.
So what’s the key to avoiding a lawsuit? Here’s a couple of suggestions. Review your employment policies. Are they updated? Do they appropriately cover all relevant employment topics? Have they been distributed to managers and employees and do you have records proving they have been received and acknowledged?
Make sure all appropriate managers have undergone proper employee training. As part of that, make sure you are tracking the training they have completed. Finally, make sure you have a process in place once a grievance has been filed. Managers need to know what they should do. HR needs to know what they should do. And most importantly, you need a system that documents all interactions with the employee filing the grievance and provides a complete audit trail of all interactions. Your attorneys will thank you for this.
The thing is we all know what we should do, but the disconnect is we often wait until it is too late to react. However, delay can be costly, especially in tough economic times. Quoting Barry Savage in The 8 Major Trends in HR Today:
“When the economy sucks wind, employers are seen as the deep pocket solution to many employee-related woes, and if an employer does not have the policies, procedures and proper documentation in place when a claim is lodged, it could cost them a pretty penny,”
So why not get in front of the issue before it becomes a problem? Think of how your CEO, CFO, or legal counsel will feel when you can show him/her how changes you have made have resulted in lower costs and a reduction in bad press. Nothing like taking the first step.
Until Next Time,