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Legal Speak

Avoiding Employment Litigation by Valuing Employees

Published September 12, 2013 4:31 PM by Tony DeWitt
One of the things I tell professionals when I speak on risk management is that it is never the medical error or mistake that gets professionals sued. It is always the collateral circumstances surrounding the error and how those circumstances are handled. While the law in most states used to be that an apology could never be provided because to do so would be an admission of negligence, the laws have changed in most states in this regard. Now a simple apology (I am very sorry for your loss) is acceptable and is not an admission, if it ever was. So I encourage apologies.

Recently an attorney planning to separate from his firm asked me whether apologies had any value in employment cases, because the reason he was leaving was because he felt like his contribution at the law firm was undervalued. He said, "if they apologized I might stay, but they don't even see the problem."

It is conventional wisdom that unless you're the "lead dog" the view never changes. That is true in the dog-sled world, but not true in the rest of the world. The fact is, the lead dog is often the one with the worst case of myopia. Being oriented to the front and pulling hard, he often feels that those behind him are not pulling at all. And in reality, it's the people behind him - the other members of the team - that are pushing him. Managers that do not see the contributions of their employees and profess the frequent belief that they are the only ones pulling the sled, while they may well be excellent at what they do, are nightmares in terms of litigation risk. When people feel undervalued, they either quit, or cause trouble. One frequent way they cause trouble is to file employment lawsuits. And nothing causes more disruption than an employment lawsuit.

It is never the fact that an employee is fired that causes an employment discrimination lawsuit. It is the way that the central issue (disrespect for women and minorities, an attitude toward tolerance of racial, sexual or religious bias, or the "you're expendable" observation) is handled by management that is at the heart of the lawsuit.

The attitudes on these issues are set at the top of the organizational food chain, and it is important to remember that the values that management shares are not always the values that managers and supervisors share. Leading requires more than just saying the right things, it means doing the right things and following up. When a manager or a supervisor, through attitude or behavior, manifests values that are at odds with the organization's values on HR issues, it's time for them to be shown the door.

posted by Tony DeWitt

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About this Blog


    A.L. "Tony" DeWitt, RRT, CRT, JD, FAARC
    Occupation: Attorney
    Setting: Jefferson City, Mo.
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