Getting sued by another business is a frustrating experience that no business owner in their right mind would want to go through. But being sued by an employee? That’s a different story. And in many cases, it can feel hurtful, almost like a betrayal, which can bring about many different negative feelings all at once.
When an employee sues you, it is normal to feel angry, frustrated, and hurt. However, the next steps you take will determine the outcome of the lawsuit made against you. Keep in mind that anything you say or do can be held against you in the court of law from this point on, so it is best if you tread carefully and avoid making these mistakes.
1. Talk to the employee directly
Upon receiving the notification for the lawsuit, avoid talking to the employee in question. You may feel tempted to ask them why they filed the lawsuit (unless, of course, you know exactly what you may have done wrong), but contacting them directly can do more harm than good to your case. What you say or do may implicate you in court, and when your emotions are running high, talking to them is definitely not a good idea.
Hence, the next best step is to talk to your trusted business lawyer. He or she will be the one to liaise between you and your employee until the matter is settled.
2. Not responding on time
The document you receive will say when and how you need to respond to the lawsuit. Missing this time frame can make this already huge headache even worse, so as much as possible, make your response through the proper channels (your attorney) ASAP. Schedule an appointment right away, then bring all of the necessary documentation relevant to the case made against you.
3. Responding to the employee
Do not acknowledge the lawsuit by responding directly to your employee. Again, you should talk to your attorney first and foremost. Even if they contact you, it’s best not to engage. You may say or do things that can make their case against you stronger, which is definitely not something you need at this point.
Moreover, remember that what they say or do can also be held against them in court. So, if they say or do something you can counter them for, take proper documentation (e.g. screenshotting conversations or recording interactions).
4. Being dishonest
It goes without saying that you should never be dishonest if you are sued, be it by another business, an employee, or a customer. And yet, so many businesses still make this mistake in an attempt to shake off the heat from their back. They withhold information, manipulate or hide evidence, or just choose to play dumb. More often than not, doing these things lands them in more trouble than they were in, to begin with.
Even if you think you won’t get caught, don’t risk it. If you know that the business is at fault, the best course of action is to own up to it and mitigate the damages later on. Answer questions as honestly as possible. If your attorney asks for evidence or details, be sure to provide them to the best of your ability. Similarly, you should submit evidence or documentation as they are, with no manipulating or doctoring involved.
5. Talking about the lawsuit to others
No matter how frustrated or angry you are, refrain from talking about the lawsuit to other people, even if it’s just to blow off some steam. Other people should not know of the lawsuit until it gets settled, and even then, you may not want to let others know to preserve the business’ reputation. Even trusted friends or partners should probably not know about it, too. If you must talk about it, talk to your spouse or a mental health professional that is sworn to uphold patient confidentiality.
6. Not safeguarding the future
After the lawsuit is done, a responsible business owner would make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Be proactive in preventing future lawsuits by discussing possible concerns with your HR people, updating the employee handbook, and correcting the issues that sparked the lawsuit in the first place.
If you are sued by an employee, what you do next will affect how the lawsuit turns out. With that in mind, it is a must that you actively avoid these mistakes that can land you in more hot water. And remember: if you are accountable for the cause of the lawsuit, the best way to reduce the damages is by being honest and owning up to your mistakes.