Preventing Employment Practice Liability Claims

The hiring and firing process is full of risk for employers, including optometrists. Every year, workers file thousands of employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) claims against their workplaces. EPLI claims can come from a current employee, former employee or even a prospective employee, making a range of allegations, including:

  • Discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Invasion of privacy
  • Wage and hour law violations
  • Wrongful termination
  • Breach of contract and more

Any employer can be sued by an employee over hiring and firing practices. Small organizations like your optometry practice are particularly vulnerable, because legal defense, judgements and settlements can be costly.

It’s important to recognize the risks and work on preventing employment practices liability claims before they occur. Luckily, there are preventative safeguards you can put in place to greatly lower your risk of these 6 common allegations.

1. Claims of Discrimination

Accusations of workplace discrimination are very common in EPL law. Employees can file a claim of discrimination based on several protected characteristics, including:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Family status
  • Pregnancy status
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Disability status

Preventing a claim will come down to you taking the right precautions during hiring and firing processes.

When hiring, avoid any form of discrimination.

  • Develop documented employment procedures and job descriptions.
  • Plan ahead for job postings, application screening, and candidate interviews.
  • Review key employment law provisions including prohibited questions.
  • Avoid interview questions that are not directly related to the job.
  • Hire based on eligibility and qualifications.

When firing, follow your employment procedures.

  • Document performance and code of conduct violations.
  • Fire according to documented polices.

2. Claims of Sexual Harassment

Across many industries, claims of workplace sexual harassment and other hostile workplace behaviors are elevated.

A claim can result when employers or other employees:

  • Make inappropriate comments toward an employee.
  • Ask inappropriate questions about their personal life.

To help prevent claims of sexual harassment:

  • Develop and enforce safe workplace policies.
  • Train supervisors and employees.
  • Monitor operations to ensure a safe workplace.

3. Claims of Invasion of Privacy

A claim of invasion of privacy can occur during hiring or after firing when an employee believes their employer has violated a reasonable expectation to a right to privacy.

Employment law allows employers to conduct checks according to the law, including:

  • Background checks
  • Drug testing
  • Security camera monitoring
  • Computer activity monitoring
  • Physical searches (where allowed by law)

But to help prevent a claim of invasion of privacy, employers need to exercise caution. Always avoid:

  • Any acts of deception
  • Secretive or intrusive monitoring
  • Intrusion into a worker’s private life
  • Violation of employee confidentiality

4. Claims of Wage and Hour Law Violations

An employee may make a claim for back wages by filing a wage and hour law claim either during employment or after termination. Take note: these claims can also be filed as a class action. The most common disputes that result in this type of claim include:

  • Bonus disputes
  • Pay discrepancies
  • Employee misclassification
  • Denied overtime

To help prevent a claim and minimize risk, consult with a compensation expert to help structure pay and incentive programs. Also maintain proper record keeping and documentation of:

  • Work contracts
  • Job roles
  • Job duties
  • Pay scales
  • Time sheets

5. Claims of Wrongful Termination

Even when you hire and fire according to your documented policies, you may face a claim of wrongful termination when terminating an employee due to:

  • Layoff
  • Policy violation
  • Poor performance

Employees that file wrongful termination claims commonly allege one or more of the following:

  • Discrimination
  • Hostile work environment
  • Harassment
  • FMLA violations
  • Retaliation for pay disputes, whistleblowing or workers’ compensation claims

To protect yourself and the practice, be sure to:

  • Create an employee handbook with all workplace policies and procedures.
  • Fire according to policy.
  • Document everything in writing.

6. Claims of Breach of Contract

Employers hiring or firing an employee can risk a breach of contract claim if the employee alleges the employer did not meet the agreed terms of employment.

Complaints can be filed if:

  • The contract is written, oral or even an implied contract.
  • The promised pay, benefits or workload are withheld.
  • The promised resources necessary to do the job are not provided.

Your practice can help protect against breach of contract claims when hiring or firing by:

  • Specifying “at-will” employment terms, if available in your state.
  • Avoiding statements of promises beyond the employee contract.

Protecting Yourself When Hiring and Firing

All optometry practices face the risk of one day being sued by an employee. Your Professional Liability policy protects your practice from patient claims, but not from other claims made by employees. To fully protect your practice from this risk, consider adding Employment Practices Liability Insurance.

Thought it’s not legally required for companies to have EPL Insurance, it’s smart business to protect the practice you’ve worked so hard to build. That’s because any optometry practice with employees is at risk for a potential employment practices claim.

The costs associated with fighting a claim in court can be substantial. Even if you win, employment practices claims can be detrimental to your budget, not to mention your professional reputation.

With EPL Insurance coverage from Lockton Affinity, you and your practice are protected from employment practices claims. You’ll be covered in the event a potential, current or former employee files a claim against you or your practice. Plus, EPL Insurance from Lockton Affinity can even provide coverage form claims arising from a third party.

This article includes a brief overview of steps optometrists can take to reduce the risk of EPLI claims. For more in-depth solutions, please contact Lockton Affinity and discuss EPL Insurance today.