We have seen an unprecedented rise in EEOC (and related state agency) claims in the first few months of 2010, which will certainly result in a rise in employment-related litigation. In many cases, employers could have avoided the claims had they been more proactive in removing sources of conflict in the workplace, implementing and following progressive disciplinary programs, and resolving disputes at the onset.

In our experience, employers can head off claims and lawsuits by following some fairly simple (not necessarily easy) strategies:

  • Review and update your employee handbook – recent updates should include FMLA revisions, ADA amendments, Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, FLSA safe harbor language, Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2009.
  • Provide honest and accurate reviews and evaluations – sugarcoating often leads to or exacerbates employment-related claims.
  • Have a clear complaint procedure – have a process in place that easily allows employees to make complaints (consider a hot-line), train employees on the process, and educate managers on how to handle complaints.
  • Audit HR functions – it is important to know what you don’t know.
  • Watch the clock – make sure that non-exempt employees are not working overtime by checking voice mail and email after hours and on weekends.
  • Follow a progressive disciplinary system – this is the best way to ensure consistency in discipline and discharge decisions.

While some of these strategies may seem like common sense, they are precisely the areas that are overlooked or ignored in times of belt tightening and cost cutting. Given the direct and indirect costs of defending employment claims, however, the cost of acting proactively is money well-spent.