Better communication is key to avoiding costly lawsuits

September 1, 2006

Documentation is invaluable in assisting an employer to paint the picture that the action he or she took was firm, fair and legitimate.

Portland, Ore. - Anger is usually the key motivation in bringing a lawsuit against an employer, and treating employees decently and respectfully will minimize the possibility such legal action.

"Employees can become angry because of how they are treated," says Kathy Peck, a partner at the law firm of Williams, Zografos & Peck in Lake Oswego, Ore. "Anger is the common denominator in an employee lawsuit. It's important to note that it's usually 5 percent of the workforce that causes 95 percent of the heartburn."

The golden rules

"There should be a standard policy about things like being late for work," says Peck, who specializes in employment law. "Employers need to be consistent in disciplining employees."

When an employee violates a standard in the workplace, the discipline should be swift, so that the employees make a connection between the offense and the discipline.

"It should take place immediately and not three months later," Peck says.

"When the employee is terminated, the statements you made may come back to haunt you," she says.

"Don't be a 'Chicken Little,' " Peck tells Dermatology Times. "It's not a layoff if a replacement has been selected. If you don't intend to replace the person because you are consolidating or downsizing the work force, that is a layoff."

"Always listen to the employee's side of the story before you terminate them," Peck says. "A jury and a judge get mad if they find out someone was fired without being given a reason. Don't play a game of cat-and-mouse."

"Documenting your decisions will also avoid 'he said/she said' situations," she says.