The legal area known as employment law can be a confusing one. Whether you are an employee or an employer, you should know the basic rules around areas like hiring, firing and sexual harassment. Below we cover some of the most common questions people have when it comes to legal issues in the workplace.
Employment law for employees
I believe I’ve been unfairly fired. Can I sue my employer?
It is illegal to fire an employee because of the employee’s age, race, gender, disability or sexual orientation. It is also illegal for an employer to fire an employee in retaliation for certain things the employee has done, for instance, if the employee is a whistleblower. Also, most members of unions can only be fired for just cause. State and municipal employees also have certain job protections.
WARNING: In order to bring a discrimination claim to court, you may have to file a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities within 180 days after you received notice of the termination or other discrimination. You should make sure you decide whether or not you want to pursue a discrimination claim before this deadline. You can call the Commission at 860-541-3400 for information on filing a complaint. You can get information from the Commission’s web site at http://www.state.ct.us/.
I believe my employer is harassing me. Can I sue?
You may be able to if you are being harassed because of your age, race, gender, disability or sexual orientation, or in retaliation for something you have done that the law protects, such as being a whistleblower. If the harassment is not happening because of one of these reasons, it is unlikely that you could successfully bring a lawsuit. However, if the conduct is severe, such as verbal abuse or any sort of touching, you may have a viable lawsuit against your employer.
Employment law for employers
I’ve got an employee who is not working out. Can I let him go?
Every time you terminate an employee, you have the risk of a potential lawsuit or discrimination claim. Despite the risk, in the end, an unsuccessful employee can cost you more in lost business, customer satisfaction, management effort and workforce morale than the potential exposure from litigation. Planning with experienced employment counsel, you can greatly reduce your potential legal exposure. Assuming that you are not getting rid of the employee because of his or her age, gender, race or disability, or retaliating against the employee for conduct protected by law, such as complaining about an unsafe workplace or filing a workers’ compensation claim, litigation risk can often be minimized if you talk to experienced employment counsel first. Frequently, a quick telephone call is all that is needed to review the decision, while when terminating a high-risk employee, more extensive work may be necessary.
The risk presented by the termination of any particular employee is a highly individual question. However, the better proof you have that the decision was the result of a legitimate business decision, such as downsizing or poor performance, the less risk you have.
Does my company really need a sexual harassment policy?
Sexual harassment suits and complaints are common, expensive and emotionally difficult for any employer. If you make sure, however, that you have a well-drafted, up-to-date sexual harassment policy, you can avoid many sexual harassment claims, and have a strong defense if any sexual harassment lawsuit is brought against you. If you don’t have a policy, they could be on the hook for sexual harassment that you didn’t even knew about.