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Susan M. Heathfield

Is the Government Coming to Get You?

By February 9, 2011

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Maybe. At least it sure feels that way some days.

Were you or your company complained about lately by an employee at the Department of Labor? DOL receives 40,000 complaints about bosses and employers a year about everything from wage disputes, to employment status and overtime to FMLA complaints.

According to FoxNews.com, the DOL can only get to 10% of the complaints because of budget, personnel and other restrictions. "In an unprecedented and controversial move, the White House has launched a new program at the Department of Labor which will refer workers who have complaints about their bosses to a toll free number at the American Bar Association, where they can get a lawyer to work on their case on a contingency fee basis."

My opinion? Another job killing, anti-employer decision. Contingency fees mean that the lawyers don't collect any fees until the employer pays. Does this give an attorney a thoughtful reason to only take on legitimate suits? Maybe some. But, in my experience, regardless of the legitimacy of a lawsuit, some lawyers take on just about anything that breathes. And, some employers settle because they do the math. Not the justice. They do the math.

The math says that, if they are sued, the suit can cost minimally $30-50,000 to defend. Losing a suit, for whatever reason, jury sympathy to employees versus the big, bad employer, whatever - can result in a much higher cost to employers.

So whether the employer is right or wrong, if the employee wants a whole lot less than that, some employers settle. They call this a win.

Manage Employee Complaints at Work

You can prevent employee complaints to the DOL in the first place. Here's what an employer needs to do to manage employee complaints at work.

  • Know the laws and follow them to the best of your ability. Consult an employment law attorney to make sure you are in compliance. (More work for lawyers. You bet. But, I prefer to invest in prevention.

  • Create written policies and procedures that cover areas of legal compliance. Train employees in the policies.

  • Fairly and consistently implement and apply the policies.

  • Develop and implement an internal complaint process. Train employees in the process.

  • Follow the complaint process in a timely manner whenever you have an employee complaint or even a serious inquiry. Throw a little bone the employee's way whenever you can.

  • Communicate and explain the rationale to the complaining employee to ensure that he or she understands why you reached the decision. Make sure your decisions are fact based and not arbitrary.

  • Create an executive review process that an employee can tap into if he or she disagrees with the decision that the complaint investigation reached.

  • Document, document, document.

Image Copyright Nikolay Mamluke

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February 12, 2011 at 1:13 pm
(1) mochridh says:

“Throw a little bone the employee’s way whenever you can.”

Wow, that’s a stellar strategy. Called stalling; smoke and mirrors; make the employee believe you give a crap when you really don’t. You must have many, many happy and productive people working in your company.

The White House did what they had to – the insignificant employee without the means to file usually backs down when up against an employer with deep pockets. You know the type – no budget for proper wages and working conditions but has no problem making funds available to stymie a legal case or avoid it by settling.

You’re fortunate to not be across the table from me at labour relation meetings. The arbitration hearings would be scheduled so fast you wouldn’t know what hit you.

February 12, 2011 at 2:04 pm
(2) Susan Heathfield says:

Actually, I own one of the most employee-oriented companies in the world. So, sorry, you’re wrong on that count.

Secondly, my point in this post was that if employers do the right thing, which is exactly what I listed, then employees will never need to file a claim at all. So, think about it from that perspective…

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