If you’ve never been sued as an employer, congratulations. You are likely just lucky, and not just good at employer-ing. You will be sued, eventually, and when you are, there are certain things you should expect.
Here are eight of them:
1. It will cost, A LOT. An employer should expect to spend between $50,000 and $250,000 dollars defending a lawsuit brought by an ex-employee.
2. It will be time consuming. Lawsuits eat a lot of time. You will spend time gathering documents, meeting with your attorney to provide facts and background information, answering discovery requests, attending pretrials and settlement conferences, and making employees available for depositions (including the extensive pre-deposition preparation). In addition to the fees you pay your attorney, there is significant additional cost in the lost productivity hours that goes into litigation.
3. It will last longer than you think it should. Litigation is a marathon, not a sprint, and the finish line is often a moving target. Deadlines are usually far in the future, and often extended through no fault of your own. And, the longer it takes, the more expensive it usually is.
4. Your employees will not be perfect witnesses. No witness is perfect. In fact, most are far from it. All will make mistakes. Some will be small and insignificant (a date here or there), some larger (a key fact forgotten under the scrutiny of a deposition), and some will be devastating (In an age case I once had a CEO admit age discrimination on the witness stand; case closed). You can prepare and over-prepare your witnesses (see numbers 1 and 2 above), but you cannot prepare for how someone will hold up under the pressure of a deposition or trial, and the pressure filled scrutiny and cross examination that come with them.
5. You are not as good of record keeper as you think you are. “I know I took notes during that meeting.” “Where did that email go?” “That document must have been mis-filed; I know it’s here somewhere.” You didn’t. You probably deleted it. If it’s lost or mis-filed, good luck finding it.
6. You may fight more than one battle. Does your business have Employment Practice Liability Insurance? Great, the lawsuit just filed against you may be covered. “May?! What the hell am I paying for?!” Did you put the insurance company on notice as soon as you learned of the claim or potential claim? No? Then it might not be covered. It’s a wage-and-hour or labor claim? Read your policy exclusions, because it might not be covered. You have a high deductible? You might have coverage, but you’ll pay a significant amount out-of-pocket until you meet said deductible. You want to choose your own attorney? Read your policy, because you might be limited in selecting from a panel of pre-selected lawyers you’ve never heard of or met. As a result, you may end up fighting two fights, one against the plaintiff and one against your insurance carrier.
7. Decisions will not all go your way. You will win some motions, and you will lose some motions. Some will matter more than others. You need to understand that if your side was always right, there’d be nothing to litigate. Don’t get mad at me. Don’t get mad at the judge. Litigation is a process, and losing some issues is part of that process.
8. Every case has risk. Every client always asks, “How strong is our case? What are our odds?” Look, I’m not a bookie, I’m an attorney. On your best day, with your strongest case, I only give you a 2 out of three chance of winning. We cannot control the judge or the jury, and they ultimately decide that case, sometimes on issues that have nothing to do with the facts or the law. If you can’t stomach risk, settle.
This post originally appeared on the Ohio Employer's Law Blog, and was written by Jon Hyman, Partner, Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis. Jon can be reached at via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, via telephone at 216-831-0042, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter.