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Legopedia

Can You Sue Your Employer?

Deciding whether or not to sue your employer is never easy, but it is sometimes necessary. If you had to go through discrimination, wrongful termination, sexual harassment, or injury at your workplace and your employer has hung you out to dry by taking little or no effort to resolve the issue, then sometimes your only recourse is legal action.

When taking legal action, you must consult a lawyer. For instance, an experienced workers compensation lawyer knows the ins and outs of a personal injury case. Worker’s compensation lawyers help clients establish substantial evidence to prove a claim and sue employers unwilling to help injured victims of a job-related accident. On the other hand, employment lawyers can help employees facing discrimination and other work-related harassment.

But filing a lawsuit against your employer can be complicated. Before you go down that path, consider the commitment and expectations of suing someone.

Suing Your Employer

First, you need to figure out whether you have the grounds to sue. What you think isviolatesour rights may not be recognized that way as per the law. For example, if your employer has caused emotional distress with hitheirerbal insults, it may not qualify as mental harassment. However, if, as a result of these constant insults, you develop a mental issue that leads to psychiatric problems, you may have a case against them.

If you wish to figure out where you stand, you can go through the provisions of the Labour Laws of India, such as the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, and the men’s Compensation Act, 19of 23.

Keep in mind that not all provisions may apply to your situation. For example, the Industrial Disputes Act was passed to safeguard the interests of factory laborers. However, the definition of workman includes people from the managerial style as well, so specific provisions may apply to all employees.

Further, you may refer to the Fundamental Rights of the Indian Constitution. And suppose any of them have been violated at your workplace, and you seem to have experienced discrimination based on race, caste, or sex. In that case, you can file a claim for violation of fundamental rights.

On What Grounds Can You Sue Your Employer?

Employment law applies when disputes between an employer and employee are irreconcilable. If you have a workplace dispute or issue that your employer cannot resolve, you should be able to file a lawsuit against the employer.

However, lawsuits should be saved for the most egregious acts — you can’t rightfully sue your employer whenever you’re unhappy. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some circumstances when a lawsuit is appropriate. Here are a few situations where you may consider legal action against your employer.

Discrimination

As per the Fundamental Rights of the Indian Constitution, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee or applicant based on religion, caste, race, sex, and place of birth. If an employer discriminates against you, this could be a situation where a lawsuit is warranted.

The employee can present evidence of membership in a protected class. The employer can face legal consequences if the employee can establish discrimination for holding a higher position or being replaced by a non-member of the same class. For instance, a black employee was replaced by a new white employee in a managerial position, where the former had higher qualifications and more years of experience. 

Direct evidence includes emails, written documents, and statements. However, employers don’t usually send emails stating employee termination because the applicant is a woman. Therefore, hiring a lawyer can help evaluate other evidence to prove a solid case to sue the employer.

Harassment

The most talked-about form of harassment in the workplace is sexual harassment, although there are other types as well. Harassment does not necessarily come from your employer. Sexual advances from co-workers, clients, or seniors also constitute harassment. If your employer does nothing to resolve this issue, a lawsuit might change those dynamics.

The law is now more stringent on workplace sexual harassment. Women’s statements about being sexually harassed are usually sufficient evidence. But, of course, employees must have consistent statements or a detailed narrative to ensure a successful case. For this reason, you need an experienced attorney by your side.

Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ Compensation refers to a payment or benefits received by an injured employee. An employer is expected to pay the compensation irrespective of the cause of the injury since it happened at the workplace. An employee whose employer refuses to pay the compensation may file a claim seeking payment. Further, an employer cannot fire or retaliate against to gain the said employee for filing a worker’s compensation claim.

Unlawful retaliation for Whistleblowing

A “whistle-blower” is an employee who reports unethical or illegal conduct by their employer. Retaliation occurs when an employer (via a manager or senior supervisor) fires an employee or overtly acts against the employee for whistle-blowing. Most states have laws that prevent private companies from firing whistle-blowers.

Breach of Employment Contract

If an employee has a contract of employment with the employer, and the employer breaches the agreement, the employee may file a lawsuit. Examples of breaches of conduct include an employer’s failure to pay the employee the amount agreed to in the contract or withholding some other benefit provided in the agreement.

Wrongful Termination

This happens when an employer unethically lets an employee go for a reason unrelated to their performance or the company’s state. Additionally, wrongful termination may occur if the manager is looking to retaliate against the employer or as an act of discrimination. While wrongful termination can be challenging, employees with enough proof to state their case may sue.

Starting a Lawsuit Against Your Employer

If you believe you have a case against your employer, there are a few crucial steps to follow:

Step 1: File a Formal Complaint

If you’ve been discriminated against, harassed, wrongfully terminated, or injured on the job, you should start by approaching the HR department of your Company. It will be an excellent place to begin by lodging a formal complaint atinitiallyMake sure you give them enough time to evaluate the situation and suggest a solution to resolve the issue.

Step 2: Consult a Lawyer

After you have lodged a formal complaint, if you feel that HR is not doing enough from their end or that the resolution they offer is unacceptable and you think that additional steps will be needed, you need to consult a lawyer. State your case to your lawyer and ask them if you have enough to make a case. The lawyer will be able to give you advice based on your case. They will also help you understand where you stand legally.

Step 3: Filing a Court Case

Most lawyers try to help you get a settlement out of court. Still, if compensation is insufficient and you feel a legal route is necessary, you will have to file a court case against your employer.

You may file a case against your employer for contract violation in a civil court. Further, cases of mental harassment can be filed in civil and criminal court if it also includes criminal intimidation. Consult a lawyer to see if there is an opportunity for arbitration or labor tribunal involvement; which might be easier and more cost-efficient.

If you decide to take the matter to court, ensure you are well-prepared for what is to come. Maintain a record of all the incidents that you think were wrong or violated your rights. If possible, note down the date and time as well. This will be immensely useful to your lawyer, who will be able to ascertain if you have a case at all. You can use this information while discussing the matter with the HR team.

Step 4: Gather the support of your co-workers

You have to try to speak to your co-workers to see if they will support your claims. This will be useful to establish a pattern of the employer’s behavior. You can also research older cases similar to yours. But you have to remember these kinds of inquiries will not be fruitful as HR may try to cover up such incidents and tell you that the past cases are “confidential”..” further, what you can do is they can go through the “employees’ handbook” and your contract to understand the company policy. This will give you a fair idea of where you stand legally and help unknown how you can challenge and support your claims.

Step 5: Speak to your employer one last time

Understandably, after what went down with you at your workplace, you may want to avoid discussing this issue with them if you feel you’ve done plenty already to resolve the issue. But before you jump the gun, try talking to your employer one last time to see if you can resolve the situation without legal help. In many cases, the employer may want to avoid all the negative publicity and high legal fees and would be willing to devise some arrangement or resolution. Schedule a meeting with your boss or supervisor to discuss your issue and hear their opinion.

Step 6: Gather Evidence

While you’re discussing the matter with your employer and your lawyer, start collecting any solid foundation of evidence that can be helpful if you should ever need to go to court. Take pictures, save emails or messages, and make notes related to any day-to-day encounters with potentially illegal behavior.

Begin conversations with employees who may have had similar experiences or have witnessed it happening to you. Ask them if they would speak with your attorney about their experiences.

Step 7: Decide if you want to pursue legal action

After this whole process, if you still feel unhappy with the resolution or think that legal action is necessary, speak to your lawyer. They will help you gather the rest of the information you need and the appropriate paperwork.

What to expect once you follow through and sue your employer?

If you have finally made up your mind and you want to go ahead with this, you might also want to look at the flip-side:

  • Even if you were mistreated at work, it is unlikely that it was illegal. It might be a challenge to prove that your employer treated you poorly if you do not have any concrete proof to prove your case. Remember that there is no legal right to a warm and fuzzy workplace.
  • Law Suits can be long, drawn-out, stressful, and painful. The only people who enjoy litigation are lawyers, but the process can be a challenging experience for you.
  • You may find out that your co-workers are not on your side. When you approach your co-workers, they might not come out and support your claims against your employer because they may not want to get involved in something that can potentially jeopardize their relations at work.
  • You may be opening up your own life to scrutiny.  Your employer will try to ascertain if the cause of stress is work or personal life. Your previous employment records and your performance at work will be under a microscope.
  • You may be viewed as a ‘litigious’ employee, affecting your future employment.

What you DON’T have to worry about:

That your employer will fire you for filing the lawsuit (assuming you did it while still employed); or

That your employer will block you, and you’ll never work again if you sue.

Conclusion:

So the simple answer to the question: “Can you sue your employer?” is “Yes. If you have a case.” But suing your employer should almost always be a last resort. It’s better to try resolving your dispute via the company’s grievance procedure or by approaching the HR Department. If you find yourself wrongfully terminated, you can negotiate a severance package. But suppose all those options are not viable, and you’ve taken enough time to evaluate your situation critically. If you still feel strongly that there was mistreatment, you must consult with a lawyer who handles workplace disputes. However, you must consider the hidden litigation costs before you file the suit, no matter how strong your case may be.

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by Kavitha Iyer

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