It happened again, last week.  An employer was sued.

Wait, what’s that? A new lawsuit gets filed EVERY day against employers?  (Actually, in federal court, at least 11885 employment lawsuits were filed in 2017. Far more than one a day.)

But last week, there were a bunch of headlines – a new sexual harassment lawsuit filed against a major Connecticut employer.

(I’m not going to mention it here for reasons that will become apparent in a second).

News organizations ate the new lawsuit up picking up scurrilous allegations that were even denied by some of the people involved.

This, of course, isn’t the first time that this happened — that is, news organizations publishing the fact that a lawsuit was filed.

Why? Is it really news?

Reporters would say yes, the public has a right to know.  And in fairness to them, a new lawsuit may have some newsworthiness.

But I’d argue that many reports about lawsuits get published for far simpler reasons — they’re easy to write about.  The facts are laid out in a complaint; all that’s really needed is a few quotes and a response from the employers and the story writes itself.

Typically, the news stories aren’t even written on the fly; a lawyer may “tip off” the reporter that the lawsuit is coming and offer “exclusive” interview to the reporter that coincides with the lawsuit.

At that point, the employer is left to say that it doesn’t comment on pending legal matters or that it’s still “investigating” the claims.

And even when the employer files its motion to dismiss, or answer, or actual responsive pleading, the press has long since moved on.

Employers must recognize this and be prepared to either respond to the press quickly, or figure out your plan ahead of time.

Communications expert Andrea Obston goes one step further and notes that with social media, your company’s story is being told — so you might as well get involved in the conversation.

In today’s on-line world, it’s easy for anyone to tell your story.  Don’t let them.  Tell it yourself.  Tell it authentically and tell it often.  If you don’t, expect someone else to do it for you – whether you like it or not.

Employment lawsuits are easy news. You should understand that by now.   Knowing what to do next may at least position your company as something different than just today’s punching bag.

Employment lawsuits can be more than just legal matters nowadays; the pressure of the online world can be huge. Understanding the stakes now in play are important for employers to understand as they defend against such lawsuits.

This post is not going to discuss, in my view, the NFL’s inadequate response over the years to domestic violence incidents by players in the league.  (If you want to listen to a full take down of the NFL, I recommend Slate’s The Gist podcast from yesterday.)

Rather, I want to talk today about how Connecticut employers can address domestic violence when such incidents have an impact on work.

  • As I talked about in August, the ABA adopted a Model Workplace Policy in Employer Responses to Domestic Violence.  It worth a look at for most employers. An “employer who does adopt it can illustrate that it takes the issues of domestic violence seriously and will encourage employees who are going through the process to speak up. As noted in the materials attached to the resolution, researchers have determined that victimization rates in the workplace are actually higher than in the general population.”\
  • Beyond that though, employers should have updated their policies to provide for the state-mandated domestic violence leave.  The law, which has been in place since 2010, provides for several items including the following: “It requires employers to allow family violence victims to take paid or unpaid leave (including compensatory time, vacation time, personal days, or other time off) during any calendar year in which the leave is reasonably necessary for the following reasons: 1.seek medical care or counseling for physical or psychological injury or disability, 2.obtain services from a victim services organization, 3.relocate due to the family violence, or 4.participate in any civil or criminal proceeding related to or resulting from such family violence.”  Unpaid leave is limited to 12 days per calendar year.
  • There are also plenty of online resources as well, including a toolkit designed to help address these issues further.  While such online resources need to be tailored to your workplace, it is a good place to start if you’re seeking more information.

Domestic violence isn’t just an issue for football players. It has an impact on employers all across the United States.  For employers that want to do something more, these resources are a good place to start.

Two quick updates to items I’ve covered before.

Yesterday, the state Senate approved of an increase to minimum wage by 75 cents, over two years.  The bill would raise the minimum wage to $8.70 on January 1, 2014 and $9.00 an hour the following year. The Governor has pledged to sign the bill but it will now go on to the House first for a vote.

The CHRO revision bill has seen a few changes since I covered it last — mostly for the better. The latest version of the bill under consideration eliminates the possibility of emotional distress damages.

However, the new version includes a default mechanism and a requirement that employers respond to the so-called “Schedule A” questions by the CHRO.  Hopefully, the legislature will reconsider.

The Schedule As are a series of interrogatories asked by the CHRO for every investigation. Some questions are mundane — the name for the company’s agent for service — while others ask about similarly situated employees or more detailed questions. Employers have, at times, had the discretion in responding to these inquiries by raising an objection to the scope of the question.

The new legislation could change that as it mandates that employers respond to these requests.

(As an aside, the legislation allows the agency to grant a 15-day extension of time to respond to a complaint but NOT to the Schedule As.  That too should be remedied.)

This would be a mistake; the scope of the Schedule A questions are broad and mandating a response will only lead to more substantive and substantial challenges by the employer.   The Schedule A has never been treated as the same as a subpoena yet by elevating it in legislation, it will suddenly have even more power.

Moreover, what prevents the CHRO from changing the Schedule A to make it even more detailed or overbroad?

The legislature should reconsider this small portion before passage of S.B. 1164.

The New York Times has an excellent column today by an infectious disease specialist who has attempted to draw some lessons of our experiences with the H1N1 pandemic flu. It was just one year ago today that the first person died from a known case of H1N1 flu. 

We know a lot more than we did when news of the new strain broke. My first post on the subject reflected the uncertainty we all felt when the news came out. 

And despite the lower numbers, the H1N1 flu pandemic is still not over. Indeed, earlier this month, the CDC reported a rise in H1N1 cases in several southeastern states

For employers, there is much to be learned from the experience.

No doubt, employers are better prepared than they were a year ago. Policies have been updated and procedures tweaked to deal with incidents such as this one.

Even so, there are still some employers that are at a loss on how to proceed from here.  The government’s flu website has gotten a huge renovation in the months since the start of the outbreak and is a must read for employers dealing with this. Go to Flu.Gov for the latest

So what can employers continue to do now?

  • If you don’t have a pandemic flu plan, develop one. Involve employees and review it and then communicate it with your employees.
  • in that plan, figure out ways to allow sick employees to stay home without risk of losing their jobs. "Presenteeism" or having employees come into work sick, can be a leading cause of further infections in your workplace and may ultimately cause more absences. 
  • Similarly, ensure that your infrastructure is in place to allow employees to work from home and that you have a business continuity plan to deal with mass absences.  Consider cross-training employees in critical functions. Once a pandemic occurs, you may not have the time to bring everyone up to speed.
  • Consider purchasing low-cost supplies that prevent the spread of infection in the workplace, such as alcohol-based hand rubs. If their around in the workplace, employees are more likely to use them. 

Most importantly, use your position as an employer to communicate with your employees. They will be looking to you for some guidance. Even if you don’t have all the answers, try to be the lighthouse in the fog with as much information as you can get from others.