The Golden Rule of the Workplace? It’s the No. 1 Way to Avoid Employment Lawsuits.

John Hollon Bad HR, Business Development, Communication, Culture, Current Affairs, Email, Employment Law, Harassment, Hiring Bias, Lawsuits, Managing People, Risks 1 Comment

Maybe it’s me, but it seems like legal issues — or the potential for legal issues — have become a bigger and bigger concern for talent managers and Human Resource leaders today.

That’s saying a lot, because “keeping my company from getting sued” has popped up at or very near the top of just about every survey that asks HR professionals what their biggest worry is for a number of years running.

The fact is, we live in an incredibly litigious society and it only seems to get more so every day.

And as I’ve noted before, it’s an even bigger challenge out here where I live in the People’s Republic of California where we have a state legislature that can’t help themselves from passing around 1,000 new laws each and every year, with many of them pushing for even more regulation of the workplace.

No wonder nationwide companies avoid hiring people in California if they can.

Legal issues are a front-burner concern for HR

That’s why this YouTube video that dropped into my mailbox the other day grabbed my attention because it’s from an employment attorney here in the less-than-Golden State who represents employees in workplace disputes.

His name is Branigan Robertson, he practices law not far from me in Irvine, California, and he says his video is for “business owners, managers, and Human Resource professionals who want to avoid employee lawsuits.”

There’s lots of great legal information in the video — it’s titled Employment Law Basics for Business Owners, Managers & HR – Avoid Getting Sued — but there’s a big insight that grabbed me, and you can file it under The No. 1 Way to Avoid Employment Lawsuits.

The big reason why employees file lawsuits

Here’s how attorney Branigan Robertson puts it:

“I’ve said this a thousand times and I’m going to say it a thousand more.

Employees do not file lawsuits because the law was broken … they file lawsuits because they feel they were treated like garbage.

Treat your employees with dignity, respect, and fairness, and in my opinion, you’ll avoid almost all lawsuits even if you’ve inadvertently broken the law.”

I’m a big fan of the Golden Rule, but this sounds like the Golden Rule of the Workplace for managers and HR professionals:

Treat your employees the way you would want to be treated yourself.

I’ve worked in a lot of offices, hiring and managing people from New York to Honolulu, and I know from experience that just about EVERY manager in EVERY workplace would do well to think a little more about the Golden Rule of the Workplace.

Employee legal actions are on the rise

I asked Attorney Robertson three questions about his video that give a little of his personal insight on this topic:

  1. Why did he decide to do this video? From Branigan Roberston: “I’m a person that is frustrated by waste. The legal system is full of waste. Employment law is no exception. My office gets lots of phone calls every day from upset people who are trying to see if they have a case. Almost every single one of these phone calls could have been prevented had both the employer and employee behaved reasonably, respectfully, and patiently during the dispute at work. So, this video is an attempt to share information that can help owners, managers, and HR professionals make better decisions. I also wanted to make an overview video that would help a new HR person or new business owner get their arms around the daunting topic of workplace laws. So I wanted to give a broad overview, but sprinkle it with practical insights that could have an immediate benefit.”
  2. Are employee legal actions on the rise? Branigan Roberston: “That’s difficult to say. I don’t have hard numbers, but my office seems to be getting more and more calls. I have good friends who practice employment law reporting the same. I’m not sure if that is due to having good marketing (and more people are calling us versus other employment lawyers) or if the entire ship is rising.”
  3. Are you seeing more legal actions around workplace hiring and age discrimination? Branigan Roberston: “Short answer – yes. Not too long ago I had a potential client who didn’t get the job he was applying for. After his interview, one of the hiring managers inadvertently CC’d him on an email to one of the other decision-makers saying that he was too old for the job. We didn’t take the case for other reasons, but that is a failure to hire case.”

Here’s my take: This video is a great way to get a quick primer on employment law, and it’s a good update to help you focus on the many workplace legal issues that can cause problems in your own organization.

“Harassment cases pose the largest risk”

I also liked how Attorney Robertson drops “actionable insights” throughout the video on common workplace issues you need to be thinking about. For example, in the section on harassment he makes this point on why you would do well to focus on it:

“Remember when I talked about respect, dignity, and fairness? That’s where this really starts to pay off. Because aside from the large class actions (lawsuits), harassment cases pose the largest risk to organizations, in terms of dollars, than any other type of case in employment law.

And the reason is if an employee has a solid case against an employer for harassment, they are going to be putting forth evidence in front of a jury, in a public forum, that shows truly atrocious and sustained conduct by the harasser. You don’t want to be defending that. You don’t want to have anything to do with that.”

If you like videos like this, it would be good to let Branagan Robertson know by giving it a “LIKE” on YouTube and/or leaving a comment for him. You can also connect through his website at brobertsonlaw.com–he says he may do more legal videos depending on the feedback on this one.

Overall, his advice is solid, and he knows of what he speaks. He’s also right on the money when he points out that the better you treat your employees, the less employee legal troubles you’re likely to have.

It’s something that Uber has been working hard to figure out. I keep hoping they’ll get there.

John Hollon

John Hollon is an award-winning journalist and nationally recognized expert on leadership, talent management, and smart workforce practices. He currently is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media. He also was founding Editor of the popular talent management website TLNT.com, and before that, Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com.
John also held editing positions at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Orange County Register, and was top editor for Gannett at two statewide papers —Montana’s Great Falls Tribune and The Honolulu Advertiser. He also has deep experience in magazine and online publishing as editorial director at Fancy Publications, VP of Editorial at Pets.com, and Editor of the San Diego Business Journal.
In addition, John is an adjunct professor in the College of Communications at California State University, Fullerton, and a board member at the Kronos Workforce Institute. He holds an MBA from Pepperdine University’s Graziado School of Business & Management, and lives in Southern California.

Comments 1

  1. Ed Baldwin

    A wise mentor once told me, “Never confuse what is legal with what is right” and while the distinction does exist, if you do what is “right” then in the unlikely event of a lawsuit or dispute (even if what you are doing is inadvertently illegal) one can typically reach a relatively quick and painless resolution. Thanks for this post John.

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