Managers, team leaders and frontline supervisors today face an incredible number of challenges, including reorganization problems, competition on an international basis and the infusion of technology and attendant changes that follow. Coupled with these challenges is a network of complex employment and labor laws that govern conduct in the workplace. As a result, incidents of employment litigation are rising. In the 2011 fiscal year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received a record number of charges (99,947), the highest number in its 46-year history.
There is no indication that employment discrimination cases will drastically decline in the near future. Certain types of workplace behavior have repeatedly presented a problem for employers in the litigation arena. As demonstrated below, the analogy of a landmine is quite appropriate—failure to abide by these basic principles is analogous to stepping on a landmine and later hearing the explosion. By paying attention to the landmines, however, managers and supervisors can minimize the risks of, or even avoid altogether, the explosion of litigation.
- Realize that employee comments can be vague, but action is required
Most employers have an intergenerational workforce and with that comes different styles and methods of communication. Sometimes employees (from all generations) can be vague when making requests or complaints regarding the workplace. An untrained supervisor may inadvertently help build the employee’s case if the supervisor is not properly equipped with the necessary tools and information to respond to the employee.
Recent developments highlight areas where an employee may make a vague statement that nonetheless triggers potential liability for the company. For example, the Supreme Court recently held that the anti-retaliation provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act protects employees who make verbal complaints.