The following is the second part of this series about employment law claims that could affect your practice. Understanding the risks you face as an employer can better help you address them to avoid a lawsuit.
by James West in Business Insurance on Thursday, July 14, 2016
By nature, being an employer is filled with challenges and ever-changing risks. One of the biggest concerns to any organization, regardless of size, is the well-being of its employees. Skilled employees are the backbone of a successful organization. In the past, these valuable employees did not always get the fair treatment they deserved. As a result, Congress passed numerous laws to ensure that every person gets treated reasonably when at work.
Employers, especially those who do background checks, should take caution to prevent any breach of privacy. Any leak of an employee’s personal information can result in a claim for invasion of privacy. At any point when personal information is disclosed from employee to management, the employee should fill out a form of written consent.
Employers need to take special care while doing background checks during the hiring process; it is likely the most sensitive information that will ever be handled by the company. Application forms should clearly state the company’s requirement of a background check and present guidelines for how the information will be used.
Connected with this, tort suits will often be filed because employees thought they had private use of something that was, in fact, company property. The most common instance of this is email records. Employees have litigated their employers for firing them over company emails. Though usually unsuccessful if clear handbook policies are in place, these claims are avoidable by having employees sign disclosure agreements when they are hired. Additionally, reminders about company rights (email ownership, locker searches) should be posted around the workplace.
Often thought of in conjunction with slander, defamation of character can occur whenever harmful information about an employee is spread around an office, regardless if it is true. This most commonly happens with medical information, but could potentially be the result of a former employer reporting an unrequired piece of sensitive information during a reference check. In either case, medical and punitive records should be handled delicately and never disclosed unless special permission is obtained.
Lying, both by employers and employees, can cause sudden litigation for unsuspecting companies. The most obvious and avoidable forms of lying come in the form of fraud. Fraud is usually linked to promises of employment or change in type of employment. Companies that promise terms of employment far greater than they know they can provide are typical offenders in this area, but managers that promise unverified raises for completion of special training or schooling can be just as liable.
Fraud is easy to avoid, because it requires intention to mislead. Managers that honestly admit they cannot fulfill an earlier promise could possibly be subject to violation of an implied contract, but cannot be alleged of intentionally harming an employee by means of false information. As stated earlier, promises of future employment are always a risk and should not be made.
Attacks Against Individuals
The final area of employment law tort claims involves attacks on individuals. Intention to cause physical or emotional harm and unlawful detainment are grounds for the majority of these tort cases.
Assault, battery and emotional harm are all instances where an employer or co-worker makes a direct action against an individual. Threats constitute assault while physical contact composes battery. Cases of non-criminal assault and battery involve unwelcomed physical contact (often linked to sexual harassment.) Neither should be tolerated in the slightest, and any employee complaints should be addressed immediately. Criminal actions of assault should be handled by police.
Intentional emotional harm is as serious an issue, but the “intentional” aspect is difficult to establish. Accusations of an employee causing emotional harm should also be handled quickly, but intent should be established as well. At the very least, sensitivity training should strongly be considered for the offending individual.
Finally, unlawful detainment occurs when an employer or manager holds an employee against her or his will. Many times these detainments are the result of the employee being suspected of violating a law while at work. With no authority, an employer cannot hold employees against their will (unless they present a clear danger to society.) When a law has been violated, police should be contacted to deal with the issue.
Because there are so many types of violations that can occur in the workplace, employers should establish two different channels for employees to report complaints. This way, if one of the contacts is involved in the complaint, the employee still has a way to comfortably report the incident. Employers must take as many steps as necessary to ensure clear communication between management and employees.
The greatest threat to employers from employees usually starts with the employer making a mistake. An email or small talk might not be received as intended, or a general statement of idealism could be misconstrued as a promise. Employers and managers must take time to understand what can make them liable and, more importantly, why an employee has government-sanctioned protection from it.
As stated earlier, employees are an essential part of any business. For employers, the employer-employee relationship is ripe for potential miscommunications. Review your company’s handbook so you know what everyone is supposed to understand and what rights are to be expected.
In the end, no company is perfect and a mistake from a manager or employee could result in costly litigation, regardless of the court’s decision. Employment Practices Liability insurance can provide coverage for employer risks inherent to your organization and the unsanctioned actions of employees. Contact NCMIC Insurance Services to discuss your company’s exposure and how you can prepare for imminent risks.
You'll find Part 1 of this blog here.
Content provided by Zywave, Inc.