A recent article in Corporate Counsel Magazine discussed the reality that “employees are suing like never before.” For example, “skycaps, bank loan officers, bartenders, phone company engineers, financial research associates, exotic dancers, drug store assistant managers, computer technicians, janitors, paramedics, delivery truck drivers, exterminators, waiters, cable TV repair workers, and chicken processors all sued their employers over pay issues in 2010.” Defense counsel claims that the employment law arena is like “the new slip and fall cases for plaintiffs’ attorneys.” Of course, the recession, layoffs, high unemployment, and an administration that encourages victimization have a lot to do with it.
Companies today face constant challenges from new regulatory requirements. Under the Obama Administration we’ve had updates to the FMLA and ADA, an expansion of the NLRB and EEOC agenda, more wage and hour and discrimination claims filed than ever, and a continuing class-action frenzy. Not surprisingly, many of these cases lack merit. Just as plaintiffs’ counsel will file large class action claims, knowing that they will probably force a company to settle rather than litigate, many individual claims also lack merit. The EEOC settles approximately 80% of claims without any finding of discrimination.
Wage and hour class action claims remain the biggest concern for large companies, Most of the companies of the size that use HR That Works (with an average of 15 to 500 employees) are too small to create a class large enough for most plaintiffs’ lawyers. However, companies remain subject to individual wage and hour claims, as well as allegations of discrimination.
Finally, there’s a widespread fear of discrimination litigation. According to the EEOC, these cases involved: Race (35.9%), sex (29.1%), disability (25.2%), and age (23.3%). Interestingly, the largest category of claims filed involved retaliation (36.3%), most of them based on Title VII complaints. Other categories of claims involved national origin (11.3%), religion (3.8%), the Equal Pay Act (1%), and GINA (.02%). As far as I can see, there’s no end in sight. We’re only beginning to deal with an activist NLRB. The EEOC wants to extend its reach, especially in background checks and compliance concerns related to government contractors. The commission has been on a hunt after 1099 misclassification cases, and 22 states have introduced legislation to outlaw bullying in the workplace.
The article concludes by noting that the U.S. Supreme Court will be ruling on three large class action cases, including Duke v. Walmart. How the court decides these cases will have a huge impact on large companies and a lesser effect on small to medium-sized firms.
Here’s the lesson in all of this: Although you might be small enough to avoid the notice of the plaintiffs’ employment bar for the moment, the odds will catch up with every employer eventually. Sound risk management requires you to have comprehensive Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI), together with the necessary policies, procedures, and training. Once an employee lodges a complaint, investigate it promptly and thoroughly, usually with the help of counsel.