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Workplace Disputes

What Should I Do When I Am Involved in a Workplace Dispute?

If you are involved in a workplace dispute, there are several steps you can take toward seeking a resolution for your situation. While you might be advised to contact your local Human Resources representative, it can be hard to approach them if you have a dispute with a higher-up employee.
If you are unsure of what to do, consult a workplace dispute lawyer for guidance.

Read the Employee Handbook

If you haven't already, you should review your employee handbook. Employee handbooks typically contain information on the company's policies and procedures and how they apply to various work-related topics. Information typically found in employee handbooks may include:

  • Sexual harassment policies;
  • Alcohol and drug use policies;
  • Pay, salaries, and any bonus-type information;
  • Health, medical, sick leave, and post-employment benefits;
  • How and where to file complaints with the company;
  • Attendance policies; or
  • Professional behavioral expectations.

The purpose of including policies and procedures within an employee handbook is to protect employees and protect the employer. All policies should be enforced consistently and comply with local, state, and federal requirements.

What are Some Common Workplace Conflicts?

Workplace conflicts can arise in any work setting or situation. Disputes can develop between co-workers and between workers and employers. Both federal and state law may apply to workplace conflicts. Practically every state has laws that may be implicated in workplace disputes. Additionally, a number of federal statutes may give certain employment rights to both workers and employers.

Common sources of workplace lawsuits could involve:

  • Harassment;
  • Discrimination;
  • Wrongful termination;
  • Wage and hour disputes;
  • Other pay and benefit disputes;
  • Disputes about accessibility and accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA);
  • Personal disagreements between co-workers.

These types of workplace lawsuits might on occasion be filed as class action lawsuits. For example, if a company has policies in its handbook that negatively affect large groups of workers, especially employees in a legally protected class, a class action suit is a possibility. 

How to Speak with Your Employer About the Workplace Dispute

In many situations, directly speaking with your employer is a fast way to resolve a workplace dispute. Contact an employment law attorney if speaking directly to your employer does not work.

Before taking your concerns to your employer, be sure to review all relevant material about the policies and procedures of your company. It's a good idea to get everything about the situation in writing before voicing your concerns. Summarize the problem, state the facts, and bring your complaint to your employer.

It will help if you already have a possible solution or outcome in mind – for example, being moved to a different office area or changing shifts, so you do not run into the other person. If you can bring a workable solution instead of just a problem, you have a better chance of quickly resolving the situation.

If possible, try to reach an agreeable resolution to the problem before the conversation's conclusion. If you and your employer cannot agree upon a solution, you may want to contact an attorney for further guidance.

How to Respond to Disciplinary Actions

It is much better for anyone on the receiving end of disciplinary action to respond rather than react. It is quite easy to have a strong reaction to something like a write-up, especially if you feel it is in error or from information taken out of context. If you want to challenge a disciplinary action against you, do so professionally.

Tell your employer that you disagree with its contents when handed a write-up. Remain calm, state only facts, and be direct. It may be possible to discuss the matter on the spot without going through formal filing. If you are feeling emotional and do not want to discuss it then and there, it is okay to tell your employer that you disagree and submit a rebuttal the following day.

Be sure to gather all of the facts and supporting evidence for your case. Check emails, calendars, and anything else that could defend yourself, and demonstrate that you are not at fault. If possible, find any witnesses who can corroborate your side and ask them to write a letter of support that will accompany your rebuttal.

Do not let nebulous comments go without being challenged if the write-up is related to a performance review. For instance, if your boss says, “You're just not trying hard enough,” ask for specific examples. If they cannot provide specifics, record it in your feedback. Provide documentation for any accusations of failing to meet company expectations. Address every point and provide evidence, if possible.

Failure to sign a write-up in some companies could lead to more disciplinary action. If you disagree with disciplinary action, ask for time for a rebuttal or sign the document and make a note that your signature does not indicate agreement with its contents.

What Is Conflict Resolution in the Workplace?

Conflict resolution in the workplace can mean management deploying informal efforts for dispute resolution. A company can provide such services as the following:

  • Human Resources Intervention: Some experts suggest starting with a simple discussion in which each person is given the chance to express their perspective and others listen actively. Hopefully, the participants can reach some kind of mutually acceptable resolution. The next step would be to discuss ensuring that the same or similar conflict does not arise in the future.
  • Work-sponsored Mediation: Another option is mediation in which someone in the company who can act as a neutral sounding board can work with the parties to arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution and then document it for future reference;
  • Counseling: Both parties might work with a counselor, at least initially, as perhaps personal issues are contributing to the conflict;
  • Other Options: Remedies such as putting an employee on probation, relocating an employee or terminating a worker's employment remains as options.

Ideally a company can use its own resources and conflict resolution methods to both prevent and remedy disputes, including hostile work environments. If a company intervenes quickly and effectively enough, its efforts might be sufficient to resolve any issues of conduct or disputes in the workplace.

Some experts recommend ending the conflict with a written conflict resolution plan whatever the method of resolution. The plan should document the conflict along with the solution. All participants in the conflict should sign it as well.

Is Conflict Resolution Required?

Conflict resolution is an option, but no law mandates it. There are pros and cons to attempting to resolve workplace conflicts informally. If the parties are unwilling to work with each other and engage in resolution efforts in good faith, that may defeat any effort. On the plus side, internal conflict resolution is informal and far less costly than turning to a lawsuit in a civil court. Many people may think that a lawsuit in a court of law holds some kind of promise, but lawsuits are a time-consuming, slow, expensive and uncertain way of solving problems..

In fact, many courts and judges promote informal methods of conflict resolution as a way for the parties to work out solutions to problems in a way that avoids the cost and lost time of lengthy court battles. So, the negative aspects of resorting to a lawsuit and formal court proceedings should be considered when dealing with a workplace dispute.

If the dispute continues unabated, it can escalate and have a seriously deleterious effect on the people involved. If possible, it makes sense to attempt conflict resolution and see if the parties involved can arrive at a resolution that works for them.

What If Workplace Conflict Resolution Is Not Sufficient?

If the conflict resolution process does not yield a remedy for the situation, the parties may wish to resort to legal action. They may need to file a civil lawsuit for damages, but filing a claim with a government agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Center (EEOC), is a necessary first step in some instances.

When an employee wants to make a claim of discrimination, they must submit a signed statement asserting that their employer has engaged in employment discrimination and ask the EEOC to take remedial action.

The laws that are enforced by the EEOC, including the Equal Pay Act, require an employee to file a charge with the EEOC before they can file a lawsuit for unlawful discrimination. There are strict time limits for filing a claim for discrimination with the EEOC. This should be noted when informal efforts at dispute resolution are attempted. It is important not to miss deadlines at government agencies that may be involved at some point.

These methods of obtaining relief may be needed for more serious conflicts and violations, such as those involving harassment or discrimination, but they can lead to federal lawsuits.

How Do I File a Workplace Lawsuit?

Again, in many cases, it is not possible to file a lawsuit directly after a violation has been discovered and an employee must file a claim with a state or federal employment agency, such as the EEOC. Once a person files their complaint, the agency then conducts an investigation into their claim and prescribes a possible remedy or solution for their problem.

If the agency is not able to resolve their dispute, they may be able to file a lawsuit only if the remedy provided by the agency is not sufficient to meet their needs. In some cases, it may be possible to obtain a right to sue letter that will allow a person to file a private lawsuit. 

Can My Employer Retaliate against Me for Filing a Complaint?

Many people do not file complaints alleging discrimination or other violations of law because they fear retaliation from their employer. However, federal law prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee even if the employee turns out to be wrong and no violation of law has occurred. If your employer does try to retaliate, an employee can file a retaliation claim with the Department of Labor or contact an employment attorney for more options.

Keep in mind that an employer can face serious consequences if they should retaliate against an employee for filing a complaint. Retaliation includes any negative action affecting the terms and conditions of the worker's employment. That would include such actions as:

  • Firing the worker;
  • Demoting the worker;
  • Engaging in verbal or physical abuse;
  • Imposing some kind of discipline or writing the worker up;
  • Placing negative reviews in their personnel file;
  • Changing a worker's schedule so as to make it less advantageous and more onerous; or
  • Treating the worker in a hostile manner. 

Workplace Disputes Involving Wages and Overtime Pay

Workplace disputes involving wages and overtime pay may involve several legal issues. For instance, a wage garnishment case could include another issue, such as child support payments.

Disability and discrimination wage disputes are common and complex. If you have a wage and overtime dispute, you may need to file a claim with the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor. If doing so does not remedy the situation, contact an attorney for assistance.

How to Handle Workplace Disputes Involving Discrimination

It is against federal law to discriminate against employees based on the following characteristics:

  • Race;
  • National Origin;
  • Sex or gender;
  • Religion;
  • Age;
  • Disability; or
  • Medical conditions, such as pregnancy.

These are protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Based on these characteristics, any employment decisions that include termination, hiring, pay, promotions, etc., based on these characteristics are prohibited. There are many protections for these individuals in both state and federal law.

However, the law is not always applied, and small companies may be excluded. What is considered “small” varies from state to state. A state like California considers a small company excluded from the law as having less than five employees. An employment law attorney will explain your rights and assist you in protecting yourself from workplace discrimination

What Documents and Questions Should I Bring to My Employment Law Attorney?

Employees who are involved in workplace disputes should bring the following documents when meeting with their employment law attorney:

  • Evidence proving a dispute or violation occurred, such as e-mails, text messages, recordings, videos, or complaints submitted to human resources
  • Financial statements like pay stubs or timesheets if the dispute is a wage and hour issue
  • Employment documents like employment contracts, company policies, or an employee handbook
  • Written accounts of what happened during the dispute or how long the issue occurred (e.g., documented incidences of sexual harassment in the workplace)
  • A list of witnesses or other workers who either saw the dispute occur or have experienced the workplace issue themselves

If you have a workplace dispute, you should also prepare a list of questions to ask your employment lawyer. The list should include questions about workplace dispute cases for the attorney. Ask the attorney about their billing rates and past track record with cases similar to yours.

Ask questions that pertain to the case itself, too. Discuss your chances of winning the case, the type of remedies available, and the consequences of losing the case. 

How Can A Lawyer Help Me With My Workplace Dispute?

If you are dealing with a workplace dispute, you should contact a local workplace lawyer as soon as possible. Your attorney will review your case, advise you of your rights, and assist you in the process of resolving your case. If necessary, your lawyer will also represent your best interests in a civil lawsuit if you choose to file a complaint against your employer.

You should especially consider hiring a workplace dispute attorney if your employer is a large corporation and has in-house resources to defend themselves in court. An insurance company will most likely insure your employer. It is extremely difficult to defend yourself without an experienced attorney in such cases.

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