As an employee, you know that your bosses can take action against you for workplace misconduct. But what if your bosses are in the wrong? You have three options. You can turn a blind eye; you can try to settle the matter internally; or you can sue. The last of these is a big step, and lawsuits are always painful, even when you’re the injured party, or believe yourself to have been wronged.
Your first step is to determine whether you really have a case that might be worth seeing a lawyer about. Look into the federal laws governing employment as well as the state laws that apply to you. If you have a formal employment contract, take a close look at its contents. Think you’ve spotted an area where laws have been violated or your contract was breached? You may want to see a lawyer to confirm that, and even if he or she agrees that you have grounds for a lawsuit, you might want to think things through before going ahead with legal action.
1. You Haven’t Left and You Want to Stay
If you’re still in the job and want to keep it, you would be well-advised to think twice about taking legal action. Even if your employers don’t actively retaliate against you, you can be sure they’ll take a dim view of any employee who is suing them. It’s not going to make for a happy workplace environment. Legal action is a last resort, and if you choose this course, things are going to get pretty stressful if you still work for the people you’re suing.
2. Have You Tried Addressing the Matter Internally?
No matter how justifiably wronged you feel, trying to get workplace grievances addressed in-house should be your first course of action. Talk to your HR manager about the issue you’re experiencing and suggest a fair course of action that would satisfy you. Just present the facts. Written communications are easy to save and refer to if you move on to litigation later, and they allow you time to present your thoughts in an orderly way. Already dismissed? Try appealing first.
3. Would Anybody be Willing to Support Your Claims?
Toxic boss? Sexual harassment? Even if you’re not alone in experiencing issues, your colleagues may be unwilling to testify in court. If it turns into a case of your word against theirs, your employers may get the upper hand. Meanwhile, they’ll use any opportunity to cast doubt on your character and judgement in order to convince the court that you, and not they, are the problem.
4. How’s This Going to Affect Your Future Employment?
It’s pretty standard practice. I’m the HR guy at the company where you’ve applied for a job. I like your resume and I decide to call a few past employers. Your most recent one says you left in a storm of litigation – which you lost. I don’t know your circumstances, but I do know there was “trouble.” Will I shortlist you? If you leave a gap in your resume, you can be sure I will ask about it. What will you say?
None of This Means That You Shouldn’t Sue
While it may sound as if this post is being used to tell you that you should let your employer get away with, if not murder, at least illegal employment practices, you’re wrong. All the same, these are obstacles that you need to think through carefully so that you know what you’re letting yourself in for if you sue. If you can deal with all of it, if your employer truly needs to be brought to justice, and if your lawyer thinks you have a good case, go for it!