Firms Say Labor Litigation Is Top Legal Concern
Frauenheim, Ed, Workforce Management
A new survey finds that employment disputes continue to be the top litigation concern for companies. But experts say simple steps-including better listening-can help prevent workers from suing in the first place.
The study of U.S. corporate law departments by the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski found that 54 percent of inhouse counsel cited labor and employment as one of their top three lawsuit worries. That figure far outpaced the results for other areas of dispute, including contracts, intellectual property and securities class-action cases.
Fulbright & Jaworski surveys from 2004 and 2005 also found labor disputes to be the chief litigation concern.
But there's hope for organizations that want to avoid facing off against their workers in court, says Shauna Clark, a partner at the Houston-based firm. She says keys to preventing disputes include consistent training and a review of company policies. Even more critical is the willingness of managers to listen, Clark argues.
"The most important action a company can take is to have an open-door policy," she says.
When it comes to preventing overtime litigation in particular, asking workers what's on their minds is vital, says Jonathan Kane, chairman of the labor and employment group at law firm Pepper Hamilton. In addition to conducting internal audits of actual job duties, examining positions added through mergers and conducting exit interviews, companies should get managers to simply talk with employees, he says.
"Employers should train their managers to ask employees how things are going and find out what their issues are," Kane said in a statement. "Take a proactive approach to uncovering problems, rather than reacting to those that crop up. …