Employment grievance lawsuits have increased by over 400 percent in the last two decades, according to the Department of Labor. High unemployment and employees’ decreasing job security has only accelerated this trend over the last few years.
In addition to the growing number of complaints, the proliferation of administrative mandates at both the state and federal level has left employers bogged down with overlapping and often confusing responsibilities. Though small businesses are granted a reprieve from some legal provisions–for example, the EEOC does not investigate certain complaints against businesses with less than 15 employees–other state and federal regulations still apply.
Thus, whether there is 1 employee or 100, small businesses must be vigilant in complying with the law and avoiding liability. The task may seem daunting, but small business owners can start to address these issues with a few basic steps:
- Review the company’s employment policies and procedures–from hiring, to firing, and everything in between. Reduce these policies to writing and make them available (as appropriate) to employees.
- Handbooks, training requirements, and dispute resolution procedures should be in place before a problem arises, rather than as an ad hoc response to a complaint.
- Weed out bad management practices and bad managers. Complaints often arise out of hurt feelings or the desire to “get back” at a bad boss. This can’t always be avoided, but it can be minimized.
- Don’t reinvent everything; rather, find available resources from sources such as the Small Business Administration, the Chamber of Commerce, and the ever-useful Google.
Finally, speak with an attorney to ensure that your small business is compliant with applicable employment regulations. Not every complaint can be avoided, but a business’s proactive steps to protect the employees may help minimize the risk of a grievance or liability. In addition, these steps are just good business practices.