DennisBeaverSeptember 17, 2008 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

Part 2

At one time, going to a job interview meant doing such silly things beforehand as taking a shower, dressing in an appropriate manner, showing up for the interview at the scheduled time and honestly answering questions. This included small talk — where we grew up, family, kids, hobbies, plans for the future — in short, all the things that would reveal if the applicant seemed to be not only qualified, but a good fit for the company and other employees.

Of course, once hired, keeping that position meant acting in a respectful manner toward the boss and co-workers, coming to work sober and not too horribly hung-over from the weekend’s festivities. It also meant doing what was required, and going beyond, showing concern for the employer’s welfare.

Advancement required a willingness to hear criticism, getting along with co-workers, accepting the reality that life isn’t fair and that in every work place the ugly side of human nature will always be present.

Those employees who stuck around for years understood that, at times, someone might gossip about them.

They knew that to gossip is to be human. Those who understood the informational value of gossip accepted the fact that to talk about others is the norm, as is workplace humor. We are not all the same, and finding something to laugh at in ourselves and others is positive. At least it was at one time on the job.

But then, beginning in the mid to late 1970s, something happened to the American workplace. Responsibility, common sense and humor purchased a one-way ticket out of town.

Political correctness moved in and set up housekeeping.

Relationships between employer and employee — often closer than family — began to spiral into a hell created by a legal system which thought it was God. Gone was an employer’s right to be honest, to tell the truth, to hire the qualified and send the incompetent packing. We replaced those important values with something called entitlement, to be joined within a few years by its cousins: Workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

The threat to employers is real

Last week I wrote about employers who were literally the victim of predatory employees and lawyers only too willing to help them. In one case, an attractive yet scheming waitress — with a rap sheet for DUI, theft and drugs going back years — accused her restaurant owner boss of offering her the day shift for a certain sex act.

There was no independent evidence supporting the claim but a great deal of evidence to the contrary.

The doctor was told, “If you don’t pay $10,000, we’ll go to the police and this could easily become public.” That threat — which would have been illegal if spoken by anyone other than a lawyer — led to the doctor paying the money, fearing certain embarrassment and damage to his reputation even though her claim was false and could never be proven. Lawyers can get away with what amounts to extortion, especially in this area of the law.

The employer did not have employment practices liability insurance which would have covered these types of work-related claims. It is something that most employers need to consider.

How it works

While most business owners understand the need for general business insurance, employment practices liability insurance, could be something they have not heard of, as it is a fairly recent insurance product. It provides protection from claims made by potential, present or former employees, in discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination and many other employment-related matters.

The insurance could also be of critical importance if you’re on the board of directors of any organization which has employees. Board members are often sued right along with management. So, a word to the wise; if someone asks you to be on any board of directors — profit or nonprofit — find out if they have employment practices liability insurance which covers directors.

Attorney David Blaine, who practices in Southern California, is a recognized expert in employment law, lecturing and writing in this field. He describes what EPLI insurance offers this way:

“It primarily insures against the legal fees related to employment claims — discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wage and hour issues, and so on. Even one claim against an employer can be tremendously expensive — potentially $100,000 in attorney fees if it goes to trial. While no one wants to be sued, having even one claim makes having that insurance incredibly valuable, as it will save you a fortune in out of pocket expenses, equivalent to years of premiums.”

“While 90 percent of these claims settle, the law is biased in favor of the employee. There is also a very strange one-way attorney fees provision, which means that if the employee prevails, then the employer pays attorney fees. But, it doesn’t work the other way around!” he points out. “The cost of employment practices insurance is rapidly coming down. For many employers, the yearly premium $2,500 to $5,000. It can be a real life saver.”

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.