Workplace conflicts can arise in any work setting or situation. Disputes can develop between co-workers and between workers and employers. Both federal and state law may apply to workplace conflicts. Practically every state has laws that may be implicated in workplace disputes. Additionally, a number of federal statutes may give certain employment rights to both workers and employers.
Common sources of workplace lawsuits could involve:
- Wrongful termination;
- Wage and hour disputes;
- Other pay and benefit disputes;
- Disputes about accessibility and accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA);
- Personal disagreements between co-workers.
These types of workplace lawsuits might on occasion be filed as class action lawsuits. For example, if a company has policies in its handbook that negatively affect large groups of workers, especially employees in a legally protected class, a class action suit is a possibility.
What Is Conflict Resolution in the Workplace?
Conflict resolution in the workplace can mean management deploying informal efforts for dispute resolution. A company can provide such services as the following:
- Human Resources Intervention: Some experts suggest starting with a simple discussion in which each person is given the chance to express their perspective and others listen actively. Hopefully, the participants can reach some kind of mutually acceptable resolution. The next step would be to discuss ensuring that the same or similar conflict does not arise in the future.
- Work-sponsored Mediation: Another option is mediation in which someone in the company who can act as a neutral sounding board can work with the parties to arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution and then document it for future reference;
- Counseling: Both parties might work with a counselor, at least initially, as perhaps personal issues are contributing to the conflict;
- Other Options: Remedies such as putting an employee on probation, relocating an employee or terminating a worker’s employment remains as options.
Ideally a company can use its own resources and conflict resolution methods to both prevent and remedy disputes, including hostile work environments. If a company intervenes quickly and effectively enough, its efforts might be sufficient to resolve any issues of conduct or disputes in the workplace.
Some experts recommend ending the conflict with a written conflict resolution plan whatever the method of resolution. The plan should document the conflict along with the solution. All participants in the conflict should sign it as well.
Is Conflict Resolution Required?
Conflict resolution is an option, but no law mandates it. There are pros and cons to attempting to resolve workplace conflicts informally. If the parties are unwilling to work with each other and engage in resolution efforts in good faith, that may defeat any effort. On the plus side, internal conflict resolution is informal and far less costly than turning to a lawsuit in a civil court. Many people may think that a lawsuit in a court of law holds some kind of promise, but lawsuits are a time-consuming, slow, expensive and uncertain way of solving problems..
In fact, many courts and judges promote informal methods of conflict resolution as a way for the parties to work out solutions to problems in a way that avoids the cost and lost time of lengthy court battles. So, the negative aspects of resorting to a lawsuit and formal court proceedings should be considered when dealing with a workplace dispute.
If the dispute continues unabated, it can escalate and have a seriously deleterious effect on the people involved. If possible, it makes sense to attempt conflict resolution and see if the parties involved can arrive at a resolution that works for them.
What If Workplace Conflict Resolution Is Not Sufficient?
If the conflict resolution process does not yield a remedy for the situation, the parties may wish to resort to legal action. They may need to file a civil lawsuit for damages, but filing a claim with a government agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Center (EEOC), is a necessary first step in some instances.
When an employee wants to make a claim of discrimination, they must submit a signed statement asserting that their employer has engaged in employment discrimination and ask the EEOC to take remedial action.
The laws that are enforced by the EEOC, including the Equal Pay Act, require an employee to file a charge with the EEOC before they can file a lawsuit for unlawful discrimination. There are strict time limits for filing a claim for discrimination with the EEOC. This should be noted when informal efforts at dispute resolution are attempted. It is important not to miss deadlines at government agencies that may be involved at some point.
These methods of obtaining relief may be needed for more serious conflicts and violations, such as those involving harassment or discrimination, but they can lead to federal lawsuits.
How Do I File a Workplace Lawsuit?
Again, in many cases, it is not possible to file a lawsuit directly after a violation has been discovered and an employee must file a claim with a state or federal employment agency, such as the EEOC. Once a person files their complaint, the agency then conducts an investigation into their claim and prescribes a possible remedy or solution for their problem.
If the agency is not able to resolve their dispute, they may be able to file a lawsuit only if the remedy provided by the agency is not sufficient to meet their needs. In some cases, it may be possible to obtain a right to sue letter that will allow a person to file a private lawsuit.
Can My Employer Retaliate against Me for Filing a Complaint?
Many people do not file complaints alleging discrimination or other violations of law because they fear retaliation from their employer. However, federal law prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee even if the employee turns out to be wrong and no violation of law has occurred. If your employer does try to retaliate, an employee can file a retaliation claim with the Department of Labor or contact an employment attorney for more options.
Keep in mind that an employer can face serious consequences if they should retaliate against an employee for filing a complaint. Retaliation includes any negative action affecting the terms and conditions of the worker’s employment. That would include such actions as:
- Firing the worker;
- Demoting the worker;
- Engaging in verbal or physical abuse;
- Imposing some kind of discipline or writing the worker up;
- Placing negative reviews in their personnel file;
- Changing a worker’s schedule so as to make it less advantageous and more onerous; or
- Treating the worker in a hostile manner.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Help with Conflict Resolution Issues?
Workplace conflicts may often require the assistance of a qualified discrimination lawyer. A lawyer can help the parties put a conflict in perspective and negotiate a resolution. A lawyer could be helpful in drafting a conflict resolution plan also.
Or, you may wish to hire a lawyer if you need help contacting a government agency or filing a claim. Your attorney can provide you with legal representation, research, and advice.