Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why employees sue

At the conclusion of a day-long plaintiff’s deposition in an FMLA and disability discrimination lawsuit, it was clear to me that my client had not only not violated any laws, but bent over backwards to do everything possible to accommodate the plaintiff. The company had treated this employee so well, I asked a question that I had never asked in another deposition—why are you suing?
It seems to me that they treated you fairly. They gave you an initial medical leave of more than 12 weeks, they provided you every accommodation you requested for your medical conditions, they provided you a second medical leave of more than 12 weeks, and you received several raises during your employment. Why are you suing this company?
The answer she gave floored me—not because it was damaging to my case, but because something that seemed so trifling caused the lawsuit. Her answer: “They started fighting my unemployment.”

Employees sue when they feel disrespected or when they perceive unfair treatment. It is not simply enough for an employer to treat employees well during their tenure. Employers should also strive to treat employees well in conjunction with their terminations and even thereafter. Sure, there are exceptions. I would never suggest that a serial harasser deserves a pass, or that the employee who stole from you should receive unemployment or a good job reference. If you don’t want to be sued, though, don’t make a terminated employee feel like a common criminal by having security escort them to the door (unless you legitimately and reasonably perceive a safety risk). It’s okay not to give a glowing recommendation to a marginal ex-employee, but resist the urge to trash him or her to a prospective employer. Don’t fight unemployment except in the most clear-cut cases. These little things could go a long way to an ex-employee reaching the decision to let bygones be bygones and not see you in court.