Employees expect a safe work environment in which they are respected and treated fairly. Employers are legally required to provide a safe environment free from discrimination, harassment, or risk of injury.
Employees who feel unsafe, harassed, discriminated against, or who suffer an on-the-job injury often ask if they can “sue” their employer. In these cases, before filing a lawsuit an employee must first identify the nature of the claim and determine whether it needs to be filed with an administrative agency or if it can be immediately filed as a lawsuit — typically a consultation with an attorney is helpful in this process.
For some claims, filing a lawsuit before exhausting the administrative agency process can result in an immediate dismissal of the lawsuit. Many of these claims have relatively short time periods within which the claims must be asserted with an administrative agency.
As there is a wide range of claims that may be asserted, it is important for employees and business owners alike to identify problem areas and make corrections quickly. If the employer does not properly address the employee’s claims, the employee may have a case to file a lawsuit in state or federal court.
Whether asserting claims or filing a lawsuit directly, the most common grounds to “sue” and employer include: discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, and workplace injuries. See below for more details on each type of claim.
Discrimination occurs when an employee is treated differently than other workers based on sex, race, color, religion, sexual orientation, disability, national origin, or age.
Employees who have been discriminated against may have claims against their employer. Usually, these claims are initiated by filing a claim with a specific state or federal agency tasked with investigating reports of discrimination (e.g., the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or “EEOC”).
Many, but not all, employers are subject to state and federal laws that are in place to protect individuals from discrimination in the workplace. Employees and employers who are concerned about the applicability of discrimination laws should talk to an experienced employment attorney.
Harassment is a common occurrence that can quickly create a toxic work environment. Workplace harassment is unwelcome conduct based on sex, race, color, religion, sexual orientation, disability, national origin, or age.
Harassment is illegal when it is either a condition of continued employment (e.g., requiring submission to unwelcome sexual advances), or the conduct that is so severe or pervasive conduct that interferes with their ability to perform their job.
Often times, employees should report harassment to someone within the company who is designated to handle those matters, such as human resources or a member of management. Employers are obligated to take all reports of harassment seriously, conduct a good faith investigation, and if necessary, take appropriate remedial measures.
Like discrimination, claims for harassment are initiated by reporting the harassment to a state or federal agency (such as the EEOC) that will investigate the report.
Wrongful termination, also referred to as wrongful discharge, occurs when an employee is terminated for an illegal reason. Wrongful termination may also occur when an employee feels compelled to resign because of intolerable or unreasonable situation with the employer, such as the employer’s failure or refusal to stop workplace harassment.
This is called a “constructive termination,” and it is treated like other forms of wrongful termination. Although many terminated employees believe that they have been wrongfully terminated, the legal definition is quite specific. To be wrongfully terminated means that the employee was terminated, for an illegal reason.
There are specific situations in which an employee can claim wrongful termination after being fired. This includes discrimination, breach of contract, retaliation for reporting wrongful conduct of the employer (also known as “whistleblowing”), retaliation for reporting or opposing discrimination or harassment, being terminated in violation of public policy, or if an employee is asked to commit an illegal act and he or she refuses.
A good example is serving on jury duty, for which an employee should not be fired. If an employee is fired for any illegal reason, he or she may have claims against the employer for wrongful termination.
Every seven seconds, an employee is injured on the job, according to The National Safety Council. Employees are entitled to a workers’ compensation benefits if he or she is injured on the job or develops an occupational disease. Every state in the U.S. has its own workers’ compensation law and most businesses are required to have some form of workers’ compensation insurance to cover employees who become ill or injured on the job.
Employers are prohibited from taking any adverse actions against employees who are injured on the job and make a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Employers who fail to provide workers’ compensation coverage for their workers may be liable for the medical expenses and lost wages of an injured worker.
Speak with an Attorney
While most employers do their best to keep employees happy and healthy, incidents can occur that put employers at risk for employee claims that may become lawsuits. Failure to respond to an accusation could leave your company exposed to significant financial losses.
When faced with a claim or lawsuit from an employee, it is important to quickly seek legal counsel from an experienced employment law attorney. Reach out to the reputable legal team at JacksonWhite Law today to discuss your case.
Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.
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