We have a confession to make. We are lawyers who do not like lawsuits. Having been in the trenches for the last decade, working as plaintiff attorneys, we have come to realize that in the employment field, too many businesses are unaware of their legally required obligations. One problem is that human resource professionals are spread too thin, with responsibility for hiring, firing, maintaining payroll, facilitating discussions amongst coworkers and between the employees and their supervisors, fixing broken machines, ordering stationary, and ensuring that the company is staying in compliance with all relevant employment laws. There are few jobs in a company that carry such a broad range of duties and responsibilities. This need for such broad expertise in so many different fields can lead to a host of costly problems.
Employment attorneys representing the employees are keyed into this issue, and shine a spotlight on the mistakes that HR makes. Plaintiffs’ attorneys are well aware that one person could not possibly do this type of job without making some error along the way. For example, when an employee takes disability leave, quite often, an HR professional is unaware of the proper steps of the legally required interactive process. In our experience, many HR professionals lack sufficient training as to the nuances of these laws, which are plentiful. Because employers are required to implement the laws properly, companies are in effect asking HR professionals to have the knowledge of an attorney. Most HR professionals have never even heard of this process, as there is little training provided in this area. The law, however, is somewhat unforgiving in this area.
While every attorney wants to win their case, at the end of the day, when the case is done, either by settlement, motion, or jury, the employee has lost. The experience of litigation can be treacherous. But it is more than that. Jurors are often swayed by the emotional plea made by employees who love their jobs and did not want to be forced out. For example, there was a recent case was where an electrician worked for a major entertainment studio for over twenty years. Fixing some lights at the company Christmas party, he fell off his ladder and severely injured his back. The company did not follow the rules of the interactive process and he was ultimately terminated. The electrician’s back healed and he was ready to return to work, but the company did not honor his work restrictions, as was legally required. The company, knowing that this employee would make a great witness to a jury, ended up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight and ultimately settle this lawsuit.
All of this could have been avoided if only the company had known how to implement the Fair Employment and Housing Act rules.
Our “aha” moment came when we realized that more lawsuits can be prevented through better legal guidance and training for those businesses who lack HR departments or legally experienced personnel.
In our experience, the majority of employees who bring a lawsuit do so because they feel their employer’s judgment was implemented unfairly. Similarly, we have found that employers want to do the right thing, but are misinformed as to their legal obligations. It is our goal at WorkWise Law, PC to facilitate healthy relationships between the company and its employees through training, advice and risk analysis.