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Don't Overthink It: How HR Really Helps Avoids Lawsuits

September 29, 2021 - minute read

Avoiding lawsuits often comes down to managers and employees… ensuring they are adhering to company polices, as well as being managed with up-to-date workforce legislation. However, there is another group within your operational force that has even more influence over avoiding lawsuits: HR.

HR has the critical job of responding to employee complaints, which means it is as capable of stoking employee fires as they are of putting them out. It functions as your organization’s “damage control” center for virtually every type of issue in your operation, including preventing lawsuits from even having a chance to occur.

Legal representatives at SHRM’s Annual Conference & Expo 2021 named five specific tips HR can lower your chances of litigation in the days ahead. Let’s take a look!

5 Ways HR Can Help Avoid Lawsuits

When trouble arises, HR inevitably gets involved. In fact, HR is usually one of the first groups to learn of a problem and often becomes the main point of contact between the various parties involved in a dispute. That is why it often falls on HR to keep a situation from escalating into an all-out legal battle.

According to attorney R. Scott Oswald with the Employment Law Group in Washington, D.C., here are five simple but effective ways HR can curb employee lawsuits.

  1. Do not disregard complaints. Employee complaints should be treated as formal notice that a problem needs to be addressed. When HR responds properly, employees are more likely to accept the resolution of a prescribed investigation or process without initiating a claim. But if your workforce does not feel their complaints are being taken seriously, they are more likely to contact union leaders and legal representatives who will address their complaints. In other words, the faster you can react to an employee’s problem, the less likely a lawsuit will be to occur.
  2. Do not overlook your own procedures. If you have established policies concerning formal complaint processes, employee investigations, negative employment steps, etc. – you must follow them all consistently. Without adhering to your company’s official disciplinary procedures (such as not disciplining employees the same way for the same problem), you make yourself vulnerable to discrimination claims. Lately, employee trials have increasingly focused on employer’s failure to follow its own policies, so stick with whatever processes work best for your operation.
  3. Maintain a strong HR stance. While it can be difficult to stand in opposition to high-level employees who defy company policies, it is critical that your HR personnel stand their ground. If a manager’s actions do not align with your company policies, HR can take confidence in showing the manager the relevant part of the employee handbook and document any concerns in writing. If the person of concern is of a higher level, you may want to consult a legal advisor.
  4. Do not turn a blind eye to misconduct. It may feel like a temporary solution, but willfully ignoring an offense that occurs in the workplace is a recipe for liability. For example: Under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), you can only avoid liability for a supervisor's harassment if HR took reasonable steps to prevent and correct the behavior. You must be able to show that the employee raising a claim failed to take advantage of the preventive or corrective avenues offered by your organization. If your HR team knows about a potential problem, they must be able to prove they took action.
  5. Identify and prevent retaliation. Part of HR’s essential function comes in the form of identifying red flags when possible. For example: Under EEO laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employee cannot be retaliated against for engaging in protected activity at work. When deciding to lay off employees, HR needs to stay on top of any actions which could trigger a discrimination claim. Ensure your decisions are consistent with the law and based on business needs, not the desire to get rid of employees with disabilities, reasonable accommodation requirements or other unique circumstances.

Supporting HR with the Right Technology

Hourly workforces deal with varying, complex laws on multiple levels. From local agencies and unions to federal and state-level laws, there are a lot of potential pitfalls to stay on top of. That’s why EPAY Systems makes a point of providing certified HR consulting services and compliance-oriented content with our weekly blogs and monthly downloads. If you are looking for more content like what you just read, download our free eBook, “How to Keep Your HR Department Organized.”

For a customizable HR solution that prioritizes compliance as well as employee experience, take a two-minute tour of our workforce management solution and see how our award-winning tools can aid your business.

Filed Under: Compliance Human Resources