You’ve probably read news stories where employees win incredible amounts of money by suing their employer. The good news is lawsuits like those are rare. And most lawsuits end in settlement, where each side ends up compromising. However, if both parties have extremely different views and high confidence of winning, they might go to court. What employees have a chance of getting from lawsuits varies depending on not only the facts of the case, but also what laws they sue under. Here are the primary employment law remedies under several significant federal statutes.
Types of Employment Law Remedies
If courts find employers liable, they are responsible for paying damages to the employee. There are three main types of remedies: lost pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages. Courts award employees lost pay and compensatory damages to make them “whole”. “Making whole” refers to placing the employee back in the position as if the employer hadn’t violated the law. This theoretically includes reinstatement to the employee’s former position, but more often lost pay and benefits. Reinstatement is rare. Courts will not reinstate an employee if they find the employee/employer relationship has become too hostile or the position is no longer available. By the time litigation reaches a verdict, much time has usually passed, with significant negative feelings between the parties. This makes reinstatement untenable in most cases.
Backpay and Front Pay
Lost pay can include backpay and front pay.
Backpay generally begins at the start of the adverse treatment and lasts until the judgment date or until the employee finds comparable employment. Backpay is calculated by factoring in salary or wages, interest, overtime, shift differentials, lost benefits, and potentially even raises the employee would have received. The court usually offsets the award by what the employee was able to or should have been able to earn through reasonable effort in alternative employment.
When reinstatement isn’t possible, courts might award “front pay” to compensate for future lost wages. Similar to backpay, front pay also includes compensation for lost benefits.
“Compensatory damages” include additional monetary awards for out-of-pocket expenses (e.g., medical bills), as well as “pain and suffering” or “emotional distress.”
Under most federal employment laws, losing employers must also pay the employee’s attorney fees and litigation costs.
Sometimes courts can award punitive damages when they find the employer’s actions were especially malicious or offensive. Punitive damages seek to deter employers beyond the limits of compensatory relief.
Liquidated damages serve a similar purpose. Where applicable, employees might receive a specific amount in addition to their lost pay as a further deterrence to employers. Often this results in employees receiving twice what they actually lost.
Employment Law Remedies under Specific Statutes
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title VII law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It limits employees’ compensatory and punitive damages based on the size of their employer’s workforce.
|Employer Size||Combined Damage Cap|
|Over 500 employees||$300,000|
These caps do not apply to backpay and front pay awards.
Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA forbids employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities. It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities in some cases.
These caps on compensatory and punitive damages also apply to the ADA.
Age Discrimination in Employment Act
The ADEA prohibits employment discrimination against employees age 40 or over.
Damages available under the ADEA are similar to those of Title VII and the ADA, except that employees cannot receive any compensatory or punitive damages. Instead, they can recover liquidated damages equal to the amount of backpay.
Equal Pay Act
The EPA prohibits employers from discriminating in compensation based on sex. Similar to the ADEA, the EPA allows recovery of lost pay and an equal amount of liquidated damages.
Fair Labor Standards Act
The FLSA sets the federal minimum wage, currently at $7.25 per hour. It also sets overtime pay requirements after 40 hours in a workweek for nonexempt employees.
Under the FLSA, employees can recover underpaid minimum wage and overtime, plus an additional amount of liquidated damages.
National Labor Relations Act
The NLRA establishes the right for employees of non-government companies to form unions. It also provides employees, whether unionized or not, the right to engage in concerted activity.
The NLRA only permits make-whole remedies. It does not allow punitive damages.
|Reinstatement or Front Pay||✅||✅||✅||✅||✅||✅|
What Does This All Mean for Employers?
Most importantly, employers should try to avoid violating employment laws in the first place. Despite variations between laws, all of these federal employment statutes have an array of serious consequences. If you are concerned about whether your company is in compliance, contact an experienced employment attorney.