Milwaukee, WI - Hundreds of the world's leading employment and labor law experts think continued workforce cuts, accompanied by a flood of wrongful practice allegations, including claims of age discrimination and whistle-blower retaliation, will be the hottest workplace legal issues in the new year, according to a new survey by the Employment Law Alliance (ELA).
The ELA 2003 Employment Law Forecast, conducted by the opinion research firm of Reed, Haldy, McIntosh & Associates, surveyed more than 550 leading labor and employment law attorneys across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Asked to predict the leading workplace legal issues for 2003, the American-based ELA members ranked their top five hot spots as:
- Layoffs and other reductions in force
- Family and medical leave requests
- Whistle-blower claims
- Age Discrimination claims
- National origin discrimination claims
Scott C. Beightol, CFO of the ELA, and a partner in the Labor and Employment Law Practice Area of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, said the 2003 Employment Law Forecast is significant because it represents the opinions of expert practitioners who are closest to global workplace issues, from the shop floor to the corporate boardroom. Beightol is past President of the Wisconsin Bar's Labor and Employment Law Section and currently serves on its Board of Directors.
"There's no question that 2003 is going to be another very busy year for employment lawyers, which is not necessarily good news for employers or employees", said Beightol. "For the second year in a row we're looking at the prospect of increased labor reductions. What is most troubling, based on the survey results, is that even though the reductions in force appear inevitable, employers are planning on doing relatively little in the way of training and education to minimize their legal and financial exposure. Our advice is for companies to think twice and not be pennywise and pound foolish when it comes to setting their priorities for managing reductions."
The survey shows only 31% of those questioned said they expect their clients to actively increase employment and labor law training for managers. Beightol said this figure is distressing because experience shows that the best defense against a litigious workforce is a sound, proactive training program.
Looking back over 2002, 45% of the ELA lawyers polled said there was a modest increase in workplace-related litigation. However, nearly 80% of that litigation increase involved workforce reductions. The second biggest reason for litigation growth this year over 2001 was the fact that unemployed workers were having a harder time finding work after their termination. "When times get tough, for both troubled companies and terminated workers, litigation often becomes an attractive option to generate revenue," said Beightol.
There are some hopeful signs in the forecast. For example, 42% of the ELA members think employers will be spending more time addressing ethics issues at the board and executive levels. Increased workplace compliance is expected to produce fewer claims involving safety and health disputes, sexual harassment claims, and disputes over disability accommodations.
About the Employment Law Alliance
The Employment Law Alliance is the world's largest integrated, global practice network comprised of premier, independent law firms distinguished for their practice in employment and labor law. There are member firms in every major city in the United States, every province in Canada, and in major commercial centers throughout the world. For further information, including access to the survey charts and graphs, visit www.employmentlawalliance.com.