Employee Who Is Suing Is Making Us Miserable

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about discrimination suit:

A co-worker has filed a lawsuit against our employer for discrimination,(age,sex,gender). She has named several co-workers in the lawsuit. Since then, our workplace has become stressful and she continually files false grievances to further her lawsuit. We are all fed-up but were told to try to ignore it. Can’t she be made to stay home with pay until the trial is over? And if we go to HR to complain, can we be terminated?

Signed, Tired of Waiting

Dear Tired of Waiting:

The unhappy fact is that usually when work relationships have gotten bad enough for a lawsuit, it’s very difficult to make them better. The employee is probably hypersensitive to everything that she feels is negative toward her. She may be correct or not, but it can make work very unpleasant, as you have found. We are not attorneys and don’t have any specific legal knowledge about these situations, but the attorney representing your company would be able to advise about how to handle the status of the employee. As you mentioned, the employee could be placed on paid leave, but usually can’t be forced to do that. In addition, if the employee is out on leave, her work would have to be done by others, which could have a negative impact on the business. Such lawsuits can take many months, even years.

Unless there is some severe problem, most businesses choose to keep the employee at work. There would be nothing to fire you for if you talked to HR about your concerns. But, if you have talked to your manager and been told to ignore things as much as possible, your boss would probably resent having you continue your complaint about it. I doubt that you would accomplish very much by talking to HR at this point anyway.

Concerns about the lawsuit are probably more serious in their minds than employee frustrations. The employee will probably still be there for a while, no matter what the outcome of her lawsuit. The best approach is to be civil and polite, even if you can’t honestly be friendly right now. Don’t shut her out and don’t make work more difficult for her. Just do you own work and interact with her in a courteous way. Exchange the standard greetings and include her in conversations when she is present. Don’t gossip about her, every opportunity you get (which is probably a lot if most employees are upset).

Tina Lewis Rowe