Compiled By Travis Hessman
As 2001 takes its reins, dark predictions are cast for the days ahead. Partners and members of the Labor and Employment Dept. of Shipman & Goodwin LLP send warnings and advice to employers about the future of their work environments.
"The job of working with and through your employers," warns Robin Frederick, Partner in the Labor Dept., "will become more complex and challenging [this] year." These challenges, she and other partners in the Labor Dept. agree, will come in a variety of fronts.
Issues expected to rise against businesses this year include a struggle with trade secret confidentiality, an increase in both retaliation claims and the scrutinization of employers involved with sexual harassment, and a general shift in both the frequency and nature of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claims.
Because courts differ in opinion between states, employers can protect themselves from employee breach in confidentiality by continuing to tie down trade secrets through written agreements with employees, suggests Glenn Cunningham, attorney with the Labor Dept. Likewise, retaliation claims can be remedied by simply laying down regulations to help free business from legal entanglement. According to Frederick, companies "could bring in an impartial third party, like a law firm, to look at the way an employer handles a discrimination claim. In this way, employers can cut down on liability," and protect themselves against this "predicted surge."
Managerial regulations also can help a company ease through increasingly sensitive sexual harassment claims. "The investigation and subsequent discipline will be the measure of [the employer's] commitment to eliminate sexual harassment," comments Frederick. "This means having adequate policies in place, plus training for managers and supervisors."
The U.S. Supreme Court has recently made it more difficult for people to prove that they are disabled, so Frederick expects these claims to be harder to justify. Still, she continues, there will be an increase in the number of ADA claims involving the failure of corporations to engage in an interactive process for accommodations to disabled employees.
Again, as with all of the issues, conscientious managerial policies mark the cleanest escape from litigation.