What makes an employee file a lawsuit? Or what makes an employee give an employer the benefit of the doubt?

I think about this question sometimes in the middle of lawsuits. I try to figure out what went wrong in the relationship between the employer and the employee.

After all, at some point, both thought that they were in for a long relationship together. Both had big hopes and dreams.

Somewhere the relationship went off track.

The answers as to what that happens are normally complicated; it’s typically a variety of things, sometimes small, that when taken together lead to a falling out.

I’m struck by those little details that people remember years later. The forgotten “thank you”.  Or the employer that remembers that the employee left early on a March Madness weekend before a big deal was supposed to close.

On the flip side, though, some employers escape such a fate often times by doing the little things that people remember in an employee’s (or employer’s) time of need.

An incident on September 11, 2001 highlights that for me and it’s a story I tell often.

On that date, I was on an early morning flight to Miami to cover a mediation the next day.  We landed safely and by late that morning, it was pretty apparent that the mediation was not happening and there would be no return flight home.

But I had already rented a car with Hertz for our mediation in Miami.  And my colleague and I began to think — what if we just drove back to Connecticut?

We tried calling Hertz at that point, but the number was busy.  And so we did what a lot of people did on that day – we just started driving.   And driving.

After stopping for a few hours sleep outside Beaufort, South Carolina that night, we finally made it back late the next day to Connecticut.

What exorbitant rate would Hertz charge? We didn’t really care, but when we pulled in, we figured that taking a Florida car for a one-way spin to Connecticut might set us back several hundreds of dollars.

Imagine, then, my surprise when I learned that Hertz was waiving all one-way fees. We were simply charged the daily rate we had contracted for.

The staff couldn’t have been more understanding and I’ve always remembered that gesture in staying as a loyal customer to Hertz for the following two decades.

I think about that gesture a lot and think about the dividends it paid in the future.

It’s the difference between doing what is “legal” or authorized, versus following the proverbial Golden Rule.

When employers ask lawyers for advice, we are pretty good at telling them what is “legal” or “authorized”.  But that shouldn’t end the discussion.  It’s also looking at the bigger picture.  Will some small gesture pay dividends down the road?

There is no right answer.

But understand that the saying from Mother Teresa has some power — “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”