The legal ramifications of leadership can have a huge impact on your business.

As a leader, the last thing you want to do is trigger a lawsuit. 

The reality is that a lawsuit is just the beginning – bad press and a sinking reputation often comes next!  

In our last episode of Leadership & Legal, Steve and James cover the legal ramifications of leadership – and how you can achieve your goals while avoiding lawsuits. 

The Legal Ramifications of Leadership: Doing a Better Job of Engaging Our People 

Getting to know your team can supercharge performance – which is not the way we’ve been told to lead in the past. But when you get close to teams, that’s a big aspect of the legal ramifications of leadership. 

Quiet quitting is a big theme right now – many employees are doing just enough to not get fired or yelled at, but they aren’t going beyond that. Likewise, a lot of employees are leaving because they’re not having a good experience with their leader or coworkers and aren’t happy in their current role. 

Building a relationship and getting to know our teams can flip the script here. To get to know your employees means they will be more engaged, more dedicated, and less likely to leave in a time where everyone is dealing with turnover.  

But understanding this also opens the door to legal liability, what’s the best way to approach the issue? 

From a legal perspective, Dinsmore & Shohl attorney and partner James Reid said not to ask any question that you wouldn’t be comfortable asking in front of a group. If it’s a personal, intimate marriage question or something completely non-work related, that’s a signal that you may be crossing a line even if it’s well-intentioned.  

An employee could claim your thought process was to get into a personal relationship with them. Alternatively, they may claim it was intimidation or pressured to give personal information in order to keep their job. 

In contrast, Steve thinks it’s important to understand what drives each team member personally and professionally. Without that knowledge, it’s hard to unlock the best from your teams. 

James did add that out of all discrimination charges filed, there’s never any evidence of discrimination in over 80% of cases. 

He added that before you promote, demote, or fire someone, it’s a good idea to have a committee involved in the decision. That way you are less liable to any claims that the decision was based on your personal bias or due to relationships involved. 

Another option James mentioned was to create an indemnity where if one individual is the target of a claim, other owners are not responsible for their legal expenses. 

The Legal Ramifications of Leadership: Is It Wrong to Be Friends with the People Who Work for You? 

One of the biggest legal ramifications of leadership in terms of friendships is protected class claims. 

If you become friends with a team member, you may find out they suffer from long-COVID brain fog, depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. 

Unfortunately, this could be used against you in a court of law. Brain fog is now seen as a protected class, while depression and anxiety can be seen as a disability. 

It’s illegal to stereotype or discriminate based on these conditions. So if you fire or demote someone and you had knowledge they were depressed or were part of a protected class, you may be vulnerable to a claim. 

Could Disclosing Religious or Political Views Be a Basis for Claims You Are Creating a Hostile Work Environment? 

Another hot-button topic is the discussion of politics in the workplace. 

Steve is of the mind that it’s okay to talk about politics in the workplace – especially if you show respect for different perspectives. 

James mentioned that if you allow some views to be shared in the workplace, the best legal move is to allow any view to be shared. 

You also have to be mindful that while it’s unlikely, if you are open about your politics, you do open yourself to claims of discrimination based on political viewpoints. 

If you don’t agree with abortion, and someone takes time off for it and you later deny them a raise, they could make a claim that you’re denying the raise for political reasons. 

James emphasized that your intention doesn’t really matter when it comes to employer law. It doesn’t matter what you intended to do like in criminal law…if you do the wrong thing with the right intentions, you can still be held liable! 

The Legal Ramifications of Leadership: Best Practices for Firing 

The legal ramifications of leadership are especially important when it comes to firing. James recommends that when you fire someone, always have a second person in the room. That way, you have another witness to corroborate your account of how the individual was fired. 

It can also be a good idea to have someone in the room that is the same sex as the individual being fired. That way, the team member that’s being let go is less likely to think that they’re being fired for sexist reasons. 

Lastly, always try to make firing decisions by committee, as this leaves you less vulnerable to claims of bias or stereotyping. 

The Legal Ramifications of Leadership: Should You Connect With Your Teams on Social Media? 

The legal ramifications of leadership also comes into play if you choose to befriend your teams. 

A couple of HR guests felt strongly that they didn’t like being friends with their team members on Facebook. It brings up issues that they don’t want to know about or deal with, such as inflammatory political opinions or other things that could cause problems in the workplace. 

On the other hand, friending your team members on social media can help you better connect with your teams and understand what’s important to them. That circles back to the earlier point that if you have a relationship with your teams, they will be more engaged and deliver their best work. 

The legal ramifications of leadership here are that you may open yourself to claims because an attorney could argue you were aware of something like a disability status and discriminated against an employee based on that knowledge. 

At the end of the day, there will always be legal ramifications of leadership. There’s always the risk of a lawsuit – but you can’t let that force you into an ineffective style of leadership.