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Employment Torts Small Business Owners Need to Be Aware of

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If you run a small business with just a few employees, you may not be aware there is an entire category of workplace claims that can land you, as the business owner, on the receiving end of a lawsuit. These claims are typically referred to as “employment torts.”

These claims are often brought forth to assert liability against an employer or skate around a statutory damage awards cap. According to the American Bar Association, the most common employment torts are: intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, invasion of privacy, assault and battery, intentional interference with employment contracts, and negligent hiring, training, and retention.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

This is sometimes referred to as the “tort of outrage,” and claimants must suffer severe emotional distress through someone else’s “extreme and outrageous” conduct. Constantly criticizing someone’s job performance, unjustified reprimands, unwarranted negative evaluations, and unfairly opposing unemployment are some of the scenarios that typically do not fall under intentional infliction of emotional distress claims, but they may in very limited instances. The plaintiff must show the employer knew about the conduct, know it was a tort in nature, and failed to take any steps to remedy the situation.

Invasion of Privacy

These types of claims are often the subject of a bigger issue — sexual harassment. When bringing a claim of alleged sexual harassment, there is an unreasonable intrusion theory that accompanies it. Invasion of privacy can occur when an employer publishes personal facts about an employee and there is no connected legitimate business need.

Defamation of Character

Defamation claims center around either spoken (slander) or written (libel) words that cause damages to the claimant. It can be untrue falsehoods about the employee’s character or when a former employer reveals the reason an employee was terminated or disciplined to any third party.

Intentional Interference with the Employment Contract

If someone intentionally interferes with a contract between other parties, they can be held liable. Interference in an employment situation may be giving someone an unfavorable job reference or where a manager interferes with a worker’s job such that the person winds up being terminated.

Negligent Supervision, Training, and Retention

To prove this, the claimant has to show the employer knew, or have should’ve known, that one employee’s behavior was dangerous and there was a propensity for damage, and given that knowledge, the employer still retained or failed to supervise the employee in question. These types of claims often accompany sexual harassment claims as well, usually when it’s a second-time offender. There’s certainly a case to be made when an employer keeps an employee on board knowing they already harassed someone before.

Assault and Battery

If an employee makes unwanted, non-consensual contact, or there is a fear of contact, then the recipient may have a cause of action. These claims can center around physical altercations or sexual harassment, or they can extend to other situations that might surprise you. Some employees have brought lawsuits for assault and battery related to drug testing, polygraphs, or even exposure to a toxic substance.

Retaining a Small Business Lawyer

If you’re starting a new business or already running a company, it’s important to retain a Washington DC small business attorney who is also skilled at employment and labor law compliance. The attorneys at Tobin, O’Connor & Ewing have years of experience handling legal issues that are important to small business owners. Contact our office to schedule a consultation and let us help with all your small business needs.

Resource:

americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/labor_law/meetings/2009/ac2009/108.authcheckdam.pdf

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