Manager Mistakes That Spark Lawsuits


Most lawsuits are not triggered by great injustices. Instead, simple management mistakes and perceived slights start the discontent. Here are a few of the biggest mistakes as cited by the Manager’s Legal Bulletin, that managers make that harm an organization’s credibility in court:

  • Sloppy documentation. Most discrimination cases aren’t won with “smoking gun” evidence. They are proven through documents or statement made by managers. Documents, particularly email, can help the employee show discriminatory intent. Always speak and write as if your comments will be held up to a jury some day!
  • Not knowing policies, procedures. Courts expect that supervisors know their company’s policies and procedures. If a manager admits ignorance, legal experts say juries typically view that as purposeful, not forgetfulness. Make decisions based on your policy – double check with HR before taking action if you are not sure.
  • Inflated appraisals. Performance reviews are one of the most important forms of documentation, yet managers sometimes inflate the ratings for various reasons. If that manager, later on, tries to cite “poor performance” for that same person’s termination, those overly positive appraisals create a lot of credibility concern.
  • Shrugging off complaints. Turning a blind eye to employee’s complaints of unfairness or perceived illegal actions is a guaranteed credibility buster! Comments like “I’m not a baby sitter” or “Boys will be boys” will hurt employee morale and jeopardize your standing in court.
  • Interview errors. When asked “Why did you reject certain other candidates?” after making a selection of the candidate, may cause trouble because rejection decisions typically aren’t well-documented and the decision maker may not recall the reasons later.
  • Changing your story. If an organization changes its reasoning for making an adverse employment decision (firing, discipline, demotion, etc.) its credibility is in question. It’s always best to be clear with employees from the start about reasons for discipline. Don’t sugarcoat your comments.
  • “Papering” an employee’s file. Most managers understand “Document, document, document.” However, it’s possible to over document, when it occurs right before a termination. Courts will be able to see through that. Be consistent in documenting negative and positive performance and behavior of employees.
  • Being rude, mean-spirited. An organization can have a great case but if the key supervisor comes across as rude, insensitive and mean, the attorney’s job of selling the case to the jury will be much harder.
  • Careless statements to federal or state agencies. When responding to charges filed with the EEOC, employers often have to submit positions statements. Be sure that your story hasn’t changed!
  • Firing employees too fast. Managers who terminate without first trying to correct and improve the employee’s performance might appear discriminatory in court. If a manager does try to correct the employee’s performance will stand a much better chance of avoiding a lawsuit.

If you are interested in an in-depth discussion on these topics or if you need assistance in the above-mentioned areas, please contact HR Advisors today.