How managers can avoid being held personally liability in employee lawsuits.

PositionNuts & Bolts

Understanding all the legal do's and don'ts of managing employees can be difficult. But here's an extra incentive for managers in your organization to avoid mistakes: If employees (or ex-employees) decide to file a lawsuit, they can sometimes sue their managers directly in addition to suing the company. And personal liability means a manager's assets (including their savings and house) are fair game for the employee's lawyers.

Only certain laws allow managers (including HR professionals) to be held personally liable. This includes federal laws relating to employee leave, safety, gender-pay discrimination and "inflicting emotional distress."

One way to improve compliance by managers it to make them aware of this risk. To reduce the possibility of personal liability, here are five important actions:

1 Never ask discriminatory questions in interviews. If they receive questions that involve age, race, gender, religion, disability and other "protected characteristics," rejected candidates may be able to point to that as the reason they didn't get the job.

Examples of off-limits questions: Do you have children or plan to? What are your daycare plans? Do you have illnesses or disabilities? What church or social clubs are you involved in?

2 Avoid discriminatory decisions. Avoid making employment decisions--discipline, termination, demotion, etc.--that could be connected to those same protected categories like race, age and religion. Also, sexual harassment falls under this category and can be especially costly.

3 Take the proper steps before terminations. Never fire an employee in a quick, impulsive action for performance reasons. Managers should always give regular feedback on performance and suggest ways to...

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