As a leading labor and employment practice in the United States, Littler Mendelson PC maintains a unique perspective on developments in the space and connections that provide context to broader trends. In this year’s Executive Employer Survey Report, the firm tapped those connections in an effort to learn more about what’s top of mind in the workplace, especially as it relates to employee satisfaction and predilection to sue. Littler found some surprising changes from last year’s survey.
Among the information gleaned from the survey, the team at Littler learned how current economic conditions impacted the workforce. While the recession undoubtedly affected workers, as the United States increasingly distances itself from the events of the financial meltdown, worker disenchantment appears to be paradoxically increasing.
When asked about how current economic conditions are impacting lawsuits or claims from disenchanted employees, respondents indicated that they’ve seen an increase from 23 percent in 2013 48 percent in 2014.
As the survey point out, “This is a troubling finding for employers as this type of litigation, regardless of whether the claims are frivolous, is often costly and time-consuming to defend.”
While the report did not postulate what the increase was predicated on, legislative stagnation, the growing gap between the salaries of workers and executives andhigher competition for high-paying jobs likely played a part.
Barry Hartstein, co-chair of Littler Mendelson’s EEO and Diversity Practice, says that the situation is likely the result of a harsh job markets impact on two active employee populations.
“You’ve got two groups of workers that in some respects are aligned in an unusual matter. You have baby boomers, many of whom want to retire, that can’t, and may have a difficult time getting better jobs because of their age. Then you look at our young people, who also have difficulty finding good paying jobs, which may have forced them to move back in with their parents, and deal with student debt. They’re rightly frustrated. Individuals on both sides likely think, ‘it can’t be me, it must be my age, or my ethnicity,’ and those are the sorts of challenges that employers then have to deal with,” Hartstein says.
The survey also found that unhappy workers appear to be less wary about remaining in their current positions due to an inability to find employment elsewhere. This figure fell from 85 percent in 2012 to 79 percent in 2013 to 66 percent in 2014.
In addition to issues surrounding the disenchanted employee’s predilection to sue, respondents to the survey also indicated what issues lawsuits are most likely to pertain to. Discrimination and harassment was the most frequent source of employee lawsuits and class actions during the past year, with 40 percent saying they were most common, wrongful termination claims and wage and hour lawsuits following close behind at 36 percent.
While it would be easy to attempt to draw a causal relationship between the increasing number of lawsuits brought by disenchanted employees and discrimination and wage being the most frequent type of lawsuit, based on the information provided it would not be possible to do so.
While many of the complaints filed by employees could be settled before they go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC,) Hartstein points out that the EEOC has actually decreased the number of suits it filed over the last several years.
“If you actually look at EEOC stats, the gist of it has been that the numbers of lawsuits have dramatically decreased. In 2005 they filed 381, the last two years they’ve filed 122 and 131 respectively, so on the one hand we’ve seen a decrease. They’re filing fewer cases but bigger cases. While there may be fewer lawsuits, the ramifications are going to be larger,” he says.
Still the figures are something that employers will want to keep an eye on as they prepare their legal strategies for the future.