There are an incredible variety of legal issues involving employees that you need to be concerned about. But there are two in particular that you might want to give extra attention to: 1) firing an employee over the age of 40 and 2) handling sexual harassment issues. These two issues seem to bring more and more companies into the courtroom.
Companies that lose age discrimination suits may be subject to large judgments. Sexual harassment suits tend to involve smaller awards or no awards at all. However, any suit brought against you can be both distracting and a negative for employee morale. Of course, employees who feel wronged and don’t bring a suit are an issue, too—especially if you don’t provide them a channel to air their complaint.
Just being fair to your employees is not a wise policy for avoiding legal trouble. You must implement proactive measures before trouble brews. You need to institute formal policies on issues such as discrimination and sexual harassment that will assist in heading off trouble, and lay a foundation for any legal defense you may need to launch should suit be brought.
Employment laws were written to help reelect politicians, not to assist small business owners. And disgruntled employees don’t always have a high regard for the truth. This combination, in court, may spell disaster for you. Plan ahead—be proactive with solid, written policies.
Don’t skimp on legal counsel before firing an employee or changing personnel policies. Some statistics suggest that more than half of all fired employees consult with attorneys and consider taking legal action against former employers.
When considering firing someone, consult with your lawyer. Remember that in a courtroom it is your word against that of the employee, and juries are, typically, composed of employees, not employers. And whether or not a claim ever sees the inside of a courtroom, it is going to cost you substantially in both time and money. Spend a few bucks on advance advice, to avoid spending huge sums to mount a legal defense.
Furthermore, you are that much better off if you consult with an employment attorney before any trouble happens at all. Have him or her review your policies, or perhaps even craft a whole new sets of policies and standards for you and your supervisors to follow.
Your regular lawyer may be a really nice person. He or she may be quite astute regarding general business issues. But when you are dealing with employment issues, seek an expert in employment law.
Employment law is continually and rapidly evolving. Decisions in employment-related suits change the legal face of employer-employee relationships every day. Advice that was sound last year may be useless this year. You need to consult with an attorney who makes employment issues his or her one and only specialty whenever you are dealing with sticky employment-related situations.