Can an HR director be held personally liable in an employment lawsuit?

There are no good reasons for supervisors, managers or Human Resources directors to encourage or allow sexual harassment or discrimination based on race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or age in the workplace. First and foremost, these behaviors are unlawful. Secondly, they cause real harm to victims.

But those in positions of workplace authority should have selfish reasons for not allowing or encouraging discrimination or harassment: doing so can cause tremendous damage to not only your career, but your financial health as well.

In some situations, you can be held personally liable by the courts when you are named as a defendant in an employment lawsuit. You can be held personally liable and financially accountable for violations of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Fair Labor Standards Act (regulating overtime and other aspects of wage and hour matters) and Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, and ethnicity in making contracts), among others.

A federal court found in 2017 that an HR director can be personally liable for Family Medical Leave Act and wage violations because, it said, an “employer” includes “any person who acts, directly or indirectly, in the interest of an employer to any of the employees of such employer.” The court also found that the HR director acted in the employer’s interests in that case when the director fired the plaintiff and had control over the plaintiff’s leave.

HR directors, managers and supervisors should consider that there is more in these matters than the particular employee’s well-being or even the employer’s well-being. They have a personal stake in protecting workers’ rights to be free of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

Milwaukee employees who have been subjected to improper workplace behavior can speak with an Alan C. Olson & Associates attorney skilled in employment law litigation.


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