EMPLOYERS | Avoiding and Defending Lawsuits

Responding to requests for references

To minimize risks, try to find a balance between disclosing information that is well documented in the former employee’s file and preventing disclosure of confidential or potentially defamatory information.

Follow the rules

Become familiar with the federal and state regulations, either by consulting with an attorney or by visiting the following websites, or, preferably, both:

  1. U.S. DOL: http://www.dol.gov/
  2. U.S. EEOC: http://www.eeoc.gov/employers/index.cfm
  3. TWC: http://www.twc.state.tx.us/customers/bemp/bemp.html
  4. Texas Department of Insurance, Workers’ Compensation Division: http://www.tdi.state.tx.us/wc/employer/index.html

Dealing with unemployment compensation issues

Should you contest or not contest an unemployment compensation claim?

  1. Compare the cost of contesting the claim with the cost of not contesting—i.e., attorneys fees and costs versus the amount of insurance premiums that could be saved if the challenge is successful.
  2. Consider the possibility that anything said or communicated to the agency will create a record that could be used in a subsequent defamation or wrongful termination claim.
  3. If you do challenge a claim, employ attorneys who understand your business and make sure that communications between your attorneys and your in-house staff are adequate. This will ensure that your attorneys have the opportunity to assert or submit everything that was considered in reaching the decision to terminate; the attorneys’ inability to do so because of poor communications with your staff could preclude introduction of that information in a subsequent wrongful discharge claim.

Defending lawsuits

What to do if you are sued for wrongful discharge or other adverse employment action:

  1. If you have been sued, note that you have to file an answer or other response within a very short period of time (20 or 30 days), so time is critical. Failure to meet this deadline may result in a default judgment against you.
  2. Call your insurance company if you have coverage for wrongful termination claims. Do this immediately because you will probably have an obligation to give notice of the claim within some period of time, failing which coverage will be denied.
  3. Identify each person involved with the hiring, supervision and termination of the aggrieved employee.
  4. Locate and preserve the employee’s personnel file and any other records that were consulted in making the decision.
  5. Get this information to your insurance company as soon as possible.
    1. If you don’t have insurance for this type of claim, call an attorney and get the information to him or her immediately.
    2. Cooperate fully and completely with your insurer and your attorneys. Failure to do so will prevent them from defending you properly and completely.