The employer-employee relationship is complicated. Technical competence; objective performance measures; work approach; relations with supervisors; and relations with coworkers enter into the employee relations atmosphere. As if that weren’t enough there are generational dynamics and continuous workplace changes to manage . So many opportunities for things to go wrong!
Despite all this and some increase in employment-related complaints, most employees just show up and do their best. The majority of employees never even consider bringing legal action against an employer, even when they are cranky and unhappy. So what is it that pushes employees from disgruntlement to adversary?
Employees don’t generally leap from contentment to complainant. They gradually move into a disgruntled mindset when they disagree with a company decision or performance assessment. Once disgruntled, employees are much more likely to consider taking action against their employer. When an employee feels wronged he/she is more likely to think they are owed money/damages or they want to punish the employer by bringing public scrutiny through a lawsuit. Employees will try for a while to get satisfaction through channels but at some turning point they decide no one is listening. Perhaps their boss minimizes their concerns or an informal complaint is dismissed without explanation. In my experience during these key periods in the employee’s thought process a considerate and respectful intervention can mitigate the move towards a lawsuit. HR professionals and some perceptive supervisors are alert to an employee’s thinking and frame of mind. Unfortunately these opportunities are often missed or misunderstood.
Common sources of employee disgruntlement
- When a long service employee is reprimanded, performance counseled or terminated;
- Real or perceived general disrespect;
- Real or perceived discrimination;
- Real or perceived retaliation for doing what the employee thinks is morally right or fair.
Terminations and decisions employees won’t necessarily embrace can be delivered in a very respectful and compassionate manner. You have to decide which of these postures to take:
- We are terminating you because you are a terrible employee and your performance is horrendous. You did this, you did that . . .; or
- You are a good person and in the right position you will be successful. This isn’t a great fit for you . . . Let me make sure the transition is considerate and offer you help with the transition, benefits, etc. Would you like time during the day to work on your resume? How can we help?
Any company who has paid $40,000 to an undeserving employee to settle a lawsuit knows it is worth it to pay attention to this dynamic.
Best practice prevention
Lawsuits are prevented by good communication; managing employee expectations with clarity; supervisory training; and prompt, clear negative responses to supervisors and coworkers who relate to others with abuse and intimidation. Respectful, thoughtful responses to employee complaints and addressing whatever they key issue is with concrete corrections will greatly reduce your chances of being sued.
Here are some additional materials of interest
As always, good luck.
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