Many people have experienced their employer’s abuse. The abuse may take the form of verbal humiliations and disgrace, demotion, dismissal from employment and replacement by a younger, less experienced and less costly employee or coercion to work for reduce or no compensation or benefits.
Employers justify their antics by citing weak demand in an anemic economy. Oddly, most people fail to protest or fight back. After all, the employer has the leverage in the employment relationship.
In many employment relationships the employer hires an employee as an “at-will” employee who could be fired or demoted for any reason or no reason. At the same time, the employers often induce prospective employees by providing them with a handbook delineating fairness procedures including progressive discipline with warnings and evaluations to keep the employee posted on his or her status.
In other words, the employee expects fairness in the work place but, when something goes wrong, the finds out what “at-will” employment means – no evaluations or warnings – only termination from employment.
In a recent case, a major national employer, Wal-Mart, was found to be taking advantage of its employees by forcing them to work during breaks and other times –without pay. In total, the employees lost millions of dollars in income.
The employees sued Wal-Mart. The jury found for the employees and the court awarded them $151 million in lost compensation plus attorneys’ fees.
So, there is justice for employees who experience employer abuse.
Employees may bring a number of different types of lawsuits against abusive employers. They may file both federal and state claims against employers because an employer is discriminating against them due to a disability (forcing persons with disabilities to work without reasonable accommodation or firing them) or other protected status (gender, national origin, gay, pregnancy, etc). Other causes for legal action may include violation of wage statutes (as in the Wal-Mart case) as well as state and federal safety and health laws and employee leave laws.
Employees may also successfully sue an employer who takes advantage of them by ignoring its handbook fairness and other provisions.
Employees who fear the litigation process should be aware that, in virtually all cases, mediation is required before trial, whether in state or federal courts. In our experience, more than 90% of such cases settle without trial. Both sides are usually pleased that a trial’s tension, uncertainty and expense are drastically reduced through the mediation process.