I’ve been an employment attorney for over a decade and the above question is asked of me every time somebody comes to me with an employment related legal issue. I thought I would share what I tell people who are considering lawsuits against their just in case you need help evaluating whether you should sue your employer:
- Do I have a legal claim? This first question should be obvious. More often than not I’ll have potential clients come to me saying that they want to sue their employer because they just don’t like their boss. Ethically, attorneys cannot file litigation just to harass an employer.
Most employee based lawsuits fall into a three buckets. Those buckets are:
- Unlawful Discrimination or Harassment
- Unpaid Wages or Benefits
- Retaliation Cases
If you don’t fall in one of these buckets then the likelihood of you having a case is slim. To error on the safe side, do contact an employment attorney to see if you have a case. Most employee side attorneys will give you an initial consultation for little to no cost to see if you have a case.
- Can I handle the Emotional Stress of a Lawsuit? I tell all of my potential clients that a wrongful termination lawsuit is like a divorce proceeding. The litigation is often quite contentious because the employer does everything to make the employee look incompetent while the employee is often making an argument that employer committed some sort of discriminatory or unlawful act. You need to ask yourself whether you can handle attacks on your character, your work product, and your reputation. Most of my potential clients, take a day or two to speak with their families to assess whether a lawsuit is right for them. Often, the deciding factor for moving forward is their answer to my 3rd question below.
- How Much Have I Been Harmed? Often employers will commit legal acts against employees, but the harm to the employee does not make it worthwhile to pursue litigation.
An employee came to me saying that he was shorted 2 hours of wages during a particular time period and that he was mad about it. The employee also told me he no longer work for his previous employer; he and the he found a better high paying job. In this situation, I often would recommend to the individual to just move on. The drama of a lawsuit would have distracted the employee from performing his current job and the potential reward was not worth the stress that a lawsuit involves.
In contrast, I currently have a case where a government employer terminated a high wage earning employee after 30 years of good work performance. My client had at least 10 years to go before he could retire with full benefits. In his case, suing his employer is worth it because the employer harmed him to a point where he will never be able to make close to the same money working for another employer. My client is potentially going to lose a significant amount of money in lost income in benefits. In this case, filing a lawsuit is worth it.
At the end of the day, filing a lawsuit is a very personal decision. As an employment attorney, I admire the individuals who are willing to stand up to their employers and seek justice. Large organizations will not change illegal behavior unless they are held accountable by individuals who file lawsuits. I also know, however, that litigation is not easy for individuals who have been harmed by their employer. I urge you to think through the three questions above to assess whether you should consider legal action against your employer.