You shouldn’t be able to sue so easily these days. It’s too easy and too punitive.
I’m not saying it’s not necessary. Of course, it is. There are company cultures that actively breed employee mistreatment. In those organizations bias is as common as bathroom breaks, and it’s just as institutionalized. In those cases, sometimes a lawsuit is the only thing that will wake up leadership to the extreme need for change; it’s the proverbial – and every expensive – slap in the face.
But with the specter of litigation lurking overhead, the average company, with its fair share of perfectly normal, talent-related ups and down, can fall prey to some rather questionable managerial practices. An employee could use one high octane buzz word like harassment, and everyone falls into a tizzy. That tizzy builds into a full-blown hurricane, and any chance to smooth things over or perhaps to learn a few things gets swept away in the wind.
I mean, I get it. We live and work in an extremely litigious society. You can sue anyone for any reason at any time, and whether they’re wrong or you’re right is of little consequence when a company’s reputation and finances are on the line. Add the various dimensions of diversity to the mix – race, gender, etc. – and it’s like a crappy little Molotov cocktail for the workplace; make one wrong move and boom.
Companies have to protect themselves. They’d be silly not to. But everyone’s not interested in filing a lawsuit. Some people just want a little respect, or if need be, a little guidance on how to handle a bad situation. The modern workplace is extremely hectic. People get fed up, they react under pressure, they say things in all honesty and realize later that being honest is not always desirable or appropriate.
With that in mind, when staff problems occur, the first response shouldn’t always be the corporate version of CYA, which means policy changes, multiple meetings, and the like. I don’t know. Maybe I’m being ignorant or naïve, here. Maybe that’s what’s necessary to guard against litigation. I’m no HR expert. I’m just a writer. But when dicey situations arise – and they will; we’re human. We all have our moments – why kill the fly with an axe? It’s just as easy to sit someone down, empathize and then, if you value the relationship and believe they do too, point out a few things.
Those things could be corrective or solution-oriented – here’s what you might do next time in a similar situation. Those things could be advice – here’s how I’ve handled interactions like that at different points throughout my career. Or, those things could be a simple but effective behind closed doors, “Damn. I’m sorry that happened,” or “I’m sorry you feel that way. What can we do to help?”
I mean, what’s the alternative? That employees feel it’s a better option to suffer in silence because they don’t want to deal with the CYA drama that will ensue if they admit they have a problem? Seems like that’s an easier and quicker path to lawsuit; that silently suffering employee starts having chest pains, anxiety attacks and decides going on disability or suing the company is their only option because they’re a nervous wreck who’s no longer capable of coming to work each day.
An employee should never feel like they have to choke down ill treatment because if they speak up they’re going to end up worse off than if they just suffered in silence. Let’s try a little empathy, consideration, respect. Let’s try a little understanding, a little, “ok, I see your point.” It might be a much quicker and easier route to a non-litigious solution that everyone can be proud of.
Am I being immature here? Remember, I’m no HR expert, so my ignorance could be showing. Are my solutions simply not possible in today’s legally charged workplace? Sound off in the comments.