December 29 2019 - Stories where people sue human resource departments are rarer than stories
of people taking legal action against the company in general. HR departments are typically set up to prevent concerns
over discrimination, harassment and unfair firings, so if they're run properly they actually reduce the risk of legal
action being taken against a company. However, if you feel that the HR department hasn't looked after you properly or
has done something that may have caused negative emotional or physical effects, either deliberately or through
negligence, you may want to know a bit more about what sort of action can be taken against the HR departments.
When HR is at risk of successful legal action
An employee may sue HR if a representative of the department was majorly involved in an incident that
the employee deemed to be damaging enough for legal action to be taken. For example, in the past there have been
incidents where an HR employee was made to fire a pregnant employee based on the orders of the manager. Another common
reason for legal action is when the HR
employee reveals information revealed to them in confidentiality. Though
there are definite common lawsuits that HR can face, sometimes, HR is more at-risk due to a legal tactic as the
lawsuit may be more successful with more targets (i.e. specific employees as well as just the business).
Court costs and solicitor's fees are often quite steep, but if an individual is suing a company for
doing something wrong there are certain legal entities that can offer them a special clause. The classic example of
this, favoured by solicitors like Aston Knight Solicitors, is a 'No Win No Fee' promise, where solicitors do not
charge unless the case is won. This is likely a tactic used by companies that have high confidence in their abilities
(Aston Knight have a 99% success rate, for example). On the other side, if the individual HR employee is being sued,
the business does not have an obligation to provide them with a lawyer, though many of them do. Typically, the
decision is based on whether the employee was following company policy or making an independent decision.
There are some necessary grounds that dictate whether the lawsuit has legitimacy. The employee needs to
show that the HR department that are being sued were under a legal duty and did not live up to it (e.g. spreading
confidential information). Also, the employee has to suffer in some way due to the decisions made by the HR department.
This can be losing a job or promotion, but also suffering
the emotional damage associated with public humiliation,
which might come from illegal disclosing of information. If you as an employee have good performance reviews but
have been fired without a clear reason, that could be necessary grounds to sue, especially if they file a complaint
and don't get prompt or satisfactory results, which can be a clear sign that the firing was unjust. Note that if
the company has good policies on paper that the HR team isn't necessarily following, this does not necessarily
constitute the HR team's activities as illegal.