Employment law is the area of law that governs workplace disputes. If you believe you have a workplace dispute that cannot be handled internally (i.e. through HR), you may have grounds for a lawsuit. There are several steps you can take toward seeking a legal resolution for your situation.
There are multiple legal claims that exist that allow a current or former employee to sue their employer. Some of the most common workplace dispute claims include:
- Discrimination: Occurs when your employer treats you unfavorably based on your race, age, gender, national origin, religion or physical disability.
- Sexual Harassment: Occurs when any unwelcome sexual conduct, demands for sexual favors in exchange for continued employment, unwanted touching, or inappropriate language happens in the workplace.
- Hostile Work Environment: Occurs when an employee has been subjected to discrimination, harassment or retaliatory behavior it constitutes a hostile work environment.
- Personal Injury: Occurs when you are injured on the job and the employer does not follow the proper procedures to compensate or accommodate the injured employee.
- Whistleblower: Occurs when you “blow the whistle” and disclose information which relates to suspected wrongdoing or dangers at work and sue the company for this fraudulent activity.
- Wage Disputes: Occurs when an employer refuses to pay an employee for work that has been performed, it can lead to a wage dispute.
- Wrongful Termination: Occurs in a situation in which an employee's contract of employment has been terminated by the employer, where the termination breaches one or more terms of the contract of employment, or a statute provision or rule in employment law.
- Defamation: Occurs when verbal harm is inflicted onto a current or former employee's character, reputation, or career on the basis of a fellow employee's false statement or act, resulting in harm such as an inability to do your job or get another job.
Steps You Need to Take to Sue Your Employer
Employment lawsuits can be very complex and are often difficult to prove. The procedural steps listed below are for situations that have exhausted all other methods of resolution. The very last option should be to file a lawsuit because many disputes can be resolved through HR and communication. However, should you find yourself in a dispute that requires a lawsuit then you should do the following:
- First, try talking with your supervisor or Human Resources Department. Report your issue and see if the employer can offer a resolution. If the employer is unable or unwilling to resolve your issue, filing a lawsuit may be your only means to justice and a resolution.
- Second, review your employment contract. These contracts often contain provisions requiring you to try to resolve workplace issues through a grievance procedure. Read your contract and see if there is a clause to that effect.
- Third, record your impressions of the incident. Gather evidence and information, and document everything that happens. For instance, if you are being sexually harassed, document every comment and action. This creates a record of abuse.
- Create a detailed timeline of events.
- Keep copies of any communication that relates to the incident, including emails, notes, and letters.
- Speak to coworkers, and gather witnesses if possible.
- Secure a copy of your personnel file.
- Fourth, determine what kind of claim you have. Revert back to the list provided above to determine what type of claim you may have.
- Fifth, determine what kind of resolution or damages you are seeking. The type of claim you have will help determine the resolution and/or damages you want to ask for.
- Sixth, become familiar with the laws surrounding your claim(s). There may be applicable state and federal laws. This includes determining which court you should file your claim in.
- If you are pursuing a discrimination claim, it may be best to file in federal court under federal discrimination laws. In addition, state laws may have different elements of proof than federal laws, as well as a different statute of limitations.
- Lastly, find a reputable and experienced Employment Law lawyer. This is where you get the opportunity to share your story, all of the information you have gathered, any potential witnesses, and what you are looking to get out of the case. A lawyer can then help you file a lawsuit and guide you through the lengthy process.
What to Expect When Suing Your Employer
If you do decide to pursue a lawsuit against your employer here are some things to consider and expect:
- Your employer is not afraid of a lawsuit. Your lawsuit (or threat of one) is most likely not the first one that your employer has dealt with, and often times opening a lawsuit can backfire on the complaining employee because you make yourself vulnerable to investigation.
- In other words, often time this gives the employer an opportunity to find a legal way to terminate the complaining employee.
- A lawsuit doesn’t protect you from retaliation. If a complaining employee chooses to remain employed with the business they are suing, this gives the employer an opportunity to find a legal way to terminate the complaining employee. Even the slightest bit of “wrongful conduct” could present a lawful means for termination.
- The lawsuit may be ineffectual. Generally, one purpose of filing a lawsuit is to help ensure that the unlawful behaviors stop and policies change. However, these bad behaviors rarely change as a result of a lawsuit and few repercussions actually occur.
Despite the above mentioned information, it is important to understand what rights you have and to protect those rights.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Sue My Employer?
Employment law is a very confusing area of law. If you are feeling unsure of what to do, consult a lawyer for guidance. An employment lawyer can help you navigate the laws, discuss your claims, negotiate a successful settlement with your employer, or advocate for your rights at trial.
Additionally, they can help you choose which laws to file under and which courthouse to file in based on what appears more favorable for your case.