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6 ways managers will land your company in a lawsuit

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in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

Although the managerial mistakes that have created HR headaches and triggered employee lawsuits are countless, there are just a few common managerial moves at the heart of employers’ legal woes.

Take a look at our top 6 list, and the action advice and policy tips you can use to rein in managers and keep your company out of court.

Mistake #1: Terminating Without Tact

While callous treatment during the termination process doesn't necessarily translate into a valid legal claim, managers who treat their employees poorly are almost begging for an illegal charge to follow. And, unfortunately for employers, juries often side with the underdog employee against the "big, bad corporation," whether the management decision was legal or not.

ADVICE: Imbue managers with the need to adhere to the spirit as well as the letter of employment laws during the termination process. In other words, review your termination procedures to make sure they are not only grounded in legal steps, but reflect courtesy and fairness to the employee, as well.

Mistake #2: Mishandling Employee Problems

Dealing with common employee problems can be a sticky wicket for managers. Snap responses to everyday issues often get managers into trouble with their employers and employees, and with the law. For this reason, managers must learn how to deal with employee problems productively and confidently in order to prevent the mistakes that can lead to legal skirmishes.

ADVICE: Put it to practice. Train managers on how to legally and effectively manage problem employees. We recommend you begin with the following legal landmines: absenteeism, drugs and insubordination.

Start your training here with HR Memos to Managers: 81 Concise, Customizable Training Handouts for Your Supervisors

Mistake #3: Straying From Policies and Procedures

Just saying it doesn't make it so. Spelling out company policies and procedures in the company handbook is just the first level of legal protection. The second step involves putting those policies and procedures into practice. Managers who fail to follow the policies and procedures, or who enforce them inconsistently, can land your company in court.

ADVICE: Review you handbook with managers before they go over it with their employees. This gives you time to iron out any discrepancies between the written policies and their actual practices. Just as you do with employees, get signed acknowledgments from managers that they have received, read, and understood the handbook.

If you find that a manager has strayed from an established policy, discipline accordingly. The signed acknowledgment prevents managers from using an ignorance excuse.

Mistake #4: Failing to Follow Harassment/Discrimination Policies

Managers are supposed to lead by example. So if they don't adhere to harassment/discrimination policies, why should employees? Break this vicious monkey-see-monkey-do cycle in which your managers and employees may be caught up, before a court breaks it for you.

ADVICE: Make it career-centric. Reiterate to managers that part of their performance evaluation will be based on how well they uphold and enforce company policies. Complaints of discrimination or harassment on their watch will count against them in terms of raises, bonuses, promotions, and job security.

You’ll be able to put the Memos to Managers to use right away. The handbook includes self-tests for discussing performance problems, discovering whether you’re a micromanager, determining whether you discipline fairly and more. Order your copy here.

Mistake #5: Creating a Perception of Retaliation

An employee who files a complaint or returns from a leave of absence and shortly thereafter suffers an adverse employment action is likely to smell a retaliation rat. But what's considered an adverse action? The answer to that question has left courts divided.

ADVICE: Watch out for the following manager actions that often appear retaliatory to employees and courts alike:

  • Transfers. Lateral transfers are generally not considered an adverse employment action where there is no loss in benefits or decrease in responsibilities. It’s not enough if the employee merely does not like the new position. However, if the transfer can be seen as a demotion, it might be.
  • Low performance ratings. Sudden and uncharacteristic drops look fishy — unless you have legitimate proof that they are justified. Also beware of managers holding employees to higher standards or stricter levels of scrutiny than co-workers.
  • New work assignments. A change in work assignments typically will not constitute an adverse employment action if the employee retains his/her same shift, benefits, and pay, and the new assignment is consistent with previous job duties. Singling an employee out for grunt work or menial tasks, or giving an employee a heavier workload for no apparent reason, however, could be considered retaliatory.
  • Doling out discipline. Okay: discipline that is deserved. Filing a complaint does not shield employees from the consequences of any subsequent misbehavior. Risky: issuing harsh discipline for minor infractions or disciplining an employee for infractions that others are allowed to get away with.

Mistake #6: Failing to Understand the FMLA

Managers are usually the first to know about employee absences and must make decisions about attendance-related issues. Without proper knowledge of the FMLA, it's easy for managers to run afoul of the law.

ADVICE: Manager training on FMLA leave should focus on these problem areas:

  • Notice requirements
  • Eligibility requirements
  • Attendance policy
  • Reinstatement requirements
HR Memos to Managers contains 81 concise training handouts covering nine key areas your supervisors must be familiar with:
book cover
  • Employment law (basic training)
  • Employee lawsuit risks
  • Hiring and interviewing
  • Performance reviews
  • Communication
  • Coaching and motivating
  • Management skills
  • Managing difficult situations
  • Terminations
This HR handbook – specially designed for supervisors – is an instant company training program. You can customize the handouts for your business, easily remove them from the HR Memos to Managers binder and distribute them to your managers. You'll also receive a Web link to the Memos for easy download. Best of all, HR Memos to Managers costs less than one hour of consulting time. Order your copy today!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

md November 29, 2011 at 7:58 pm

I was terminated from a management position due allegations from a woman I directly supervised(contractor) of making her uncomfortable. These allegations were completely untrue however employer deemed the “risk and exposure were too great”. They did not interview any of the remaining 9 people on my team who would have stated there was in no way a hostile environment. In actuality the contractor was angry as I was not promoting her to next level position. Her allegations were vague, nothing like any physical contact or request for date, more general comments. At first I thought I may action against for defamation of character but I am wondering if I have action against employer.


Kay October 27, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Excellent information!


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