Employment law, a broad area of the law that includes the entire scope of employer/employee relationships, has begun to encompass an ever-larger set of issues, said one local attorney.
New federal laws have steadily come onto the scene in recent years, which have dramatically affected employer/employee relationships.
“As a result, the need to stay in compliance is shrinking the size of companies that have to comply with the laws. Some employers are as small as 50 now,” said Terry Doverspike, managing partner at the Tulsa Pray, Walker, Jackman, Williamson & Marlar office at 100 W. Fifth St., Ste. 900.
Most of the entities represented by the employment law division of Pray, Walker are family-owned businesses, manufacturing facilities and retail businesses “that have enough employees to where these compliance issues come up,” Doverspike said.
“Compliance requirements are outpacing employers’ ability to stay on top of it, and that results in our being busier,” he said. “Companies of that size usually aren’t big enough to afford this expertise in-house. They have to go outside to get the answers.”
While employment lawyers once were reactive, “you’re not necessarily having to react to someone suing you as much as being sure you stay in compliance with the regulations in that employment field,” Doverspike said.
Staying on top of not just new regulations but also on growing employee benefits stipulations is a growing problem for companies, Doverspike said.
Since 2000, more than 85,000 charges have been leveled at employers nationwide, said Kirk Turner of Newton, O’Connor Turner and Ketchum, 15 W. Sixth St., Ste. 2700.
Lawsuits have been used by groups as a strategy to publicly address social problems and by individuals to collect damages for injuries from defective products. Lawyers have recently been involved in tobacco, asbestos and breast implant lawsuits and have sought monumental amounts of cash for clients.
Some debate the legitimacy of such suits, but many lawsuits against employers can have positive affects, Turner said, “by helping employers comply with the rules and create a better work environment. And, it forces employers to be pro-active.”
The result of the thousands of complaints and suits filed in recent years has nudged employers toward minimizing risk.
Personal injury class action suits, or mass torts, have become a legal phenomenon over the last two decades.
Until “tort reform” became a policy issue, the word “tort” was primarily part of the vernacular of first-year law students. Technically, a tort is any civil wrong in which a damaged victim can seek legal redress from the individual who caused the harm. In the political context, “tort reform” generally attempts to limit the prevalence of legal claims prosecuted with the assistance of personal injury lawyers.
The bank of tort case law began to grow in the mid-1970s. The Americans With Disabilities Act was enacted in the late 1980s, and in ’91 the latest version of the Civil Rights Act was passed.
One reason for the explosive growth in the number of cases and the expansion of the scope of employment law is technology, Turner said.
The Internet, television and commercials have broadened peoples’ knowledge,” he said. “They know about their rights.”
Tort reform may be possible if the American system adopts the Old English rules of making the loser pay the court costs for both sides.
“That would make people think twice before filing,” Turner said. “But, it might prevent a minimum wage earner who has a legitimate gripe from being able to file suit.” ?